WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs faces significant challenges in recruiting and retaining health-care providers and other front-line staff due to pay policies that are being inconsistently applied across the workforce and cannot be challenged by employees due to a lack of full bargaining rights, the VA’s largest employee union – the American Federation of Government Employees – told a Congressional panel today.
The VA secretary has overly broad discretion over setting and adjusting market pay for health-care providers covered by Title 38 of the U.S. Code, and legislation passed by Congress in 2016 to eliminate the use of pay-setting panels for doctors and dentists has exacerbated the problem, AFGE said in a statement for the record submitted to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“As a result, management now makes market pay decisions without any accountability or transparency and it has become much more difficult for providers to know whether they or their colleagues are receiving the proper amount of market pay. We regularly hear reports from the field that senior physicians are paid significantly less than new hires, and that many providers are making far below market rate. The adverse impact of these poor pay practices is especially felt among specialty physicians and providers in high cost-of-living areas.”
Title 38 clinicians – including physicians and physician assistants, dentists, registered nurses, and podiatrists – are not allowed to challenge management violations of pay laws or policies due to the VA’s narrow interpretation of their collective bargaining rights under the law. AFGE strongly supports legislation introduced by Committee Chairman Takano of California, the VA Employee Fairness Act, which would eliminate these exclusions to bargaining.
AFGE also stressed the importance of having current and complete data on VA employee vacancies to track the department’s progress in hiring and retaining talented professionals to care for our nation’s veterans. Even though Congress has required the VA to post quarterly vacancy data, the agency’s Inspector General has faulted the agency’s reports for lacking the transparency required to track progress.
The number of vacant positions across the VA has hovered around 50,000 for the past year, an increase of 42% from the 35,000 vacancies the agency cited in 2017.
“We all agree that veterans have earned the world-class care and services provided by the department, and AFGE stands ready to help the VA bring more full-time federal employees on board who want to make a career out of serving veterans.”