News Column

Shea-Porter, Tierney, Loebsack Introduce DELIVER Act to Improve Wait Times at the VA

June 26, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), along with Congressman John Tierney (MA-06) and Congressman Dave Loebsack (IA-02), introduced a new measure to improve recruitment and retention of doctors, nurses, and medical staff at VA medical facilities. The Doctors' Education Loans Impact VA Employee Retention (DELIVER) Act, would expand programs to help VA employees repay higher education loans and help address the current shortage of doctors at the VA. Congressmen Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and John Tierney (MA-06) joined Shea-Porter as original cosponsors of the legislation.

"Our veterans deserve to receive treatment quickly, and they deserve the best care our country can offer," Shea-Porter said. "To achieve those goals, the VA needs fully qualified long-term staff, and one thing holding the VA back right now is that doctors can make more money and pay back student loans faster by working in the private sector. My legislation would help some VA employees get out from under their student debt as long as they are serving our veterans. "

"A major issue facing the VA is the lack of medical professionals available to help our veterans. We need a responsible and commonsense solution in order to ensure veterans receive the quality and timely medical care they deserve. Today, we're introducing an expansion of the VA's loan forgiveness program that would help VA medical professionals repay their student loans while also addressing the shortage of medical professionals at the VA," Congressman Tierney said.

"As I visit the VA health centers in Iowa, I am told time and again that they need more doctors, nurses and support staff to handle the influx of patients. This commonsense bill will attract more doctors to the VA and begin dealing with this problem. As a military parent, I believe there is no greater responsibility than caring for our veterans with the same dignity and honor with which they served. We owe it to them to provide the VA with the resources necessary to hire additional doctors and nurses so they can continue the great work they do," Congressman Loebsack said.

The long wait times that have plagued VA medical facilities across the country are caused in part by staff shortages. In May, The New York Times reported that "at the heart of the falsified data in Phoenix, and possibly many other veterans hospitals, is an acute shortage of doctors, particularly primary care ones, to handle a patient population swelled both by aging veterans from the Vietnam War and younger ones who served in Iraq and Afghanistan."

VA doctors are supposed to take care of about 1,200 patients each, but staff shortages have forced them to treat more than 2,000 each, according to J. David Cox Sr., National President of the American Federation of Government Employees. Furthermore, exhausted and overworked VA doctors and other medical staff, such as nurse practitioners struggling to repay crushing levels of student debt, are often poached by private sector employers that can offer higher salaries. Primary care doctors and internists at veterans centers generally earn from about $98,000 to $195,000, compared with private-sector primary care physicians whose total median compensation was $221,000 in 2012, according to the Medical Group Management Association and The New York Times.

The DELIVER Act will make it easier for VA employees to pay back student loans, thus ensuring they can attract and retain high-quality professionals and give our nation's veterans the best possible care. Specifically, the DELIVER Act would "direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide for the repayment of higher education loans for certain employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs." The VA's existing Education Debt Reduction Program allows the Department to compete with the private sector in areas where there are staff shortages.

Full text of the legislation is available here

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Source: Congressional Documents & Publications

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