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Bill addresses psychiatric workforce shortage at VHA

On March 13, legislation to recruit psychiatrists for employment within the Veterans Health Administration and offer loan repayments was introduced by Rep. Larry Bucshon, MD, R-Ind., and David Scott, D-Ga., and three cosponsors to address the mental health care needs of veterans.

H.R. 4234, entitled the Ensuring Veterans’ Resiliency Act, would establish a demonstration project to recruit psychiatrists for full-time employment by the VHA by offering medical loan repayments commensurate with other public and private entitles.

In a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General, Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care, released on April 23, 2012, hiring and retaining psychiatrists at the VHA was identified as a key barrier to providing needed mental health services to veterans. In recent Congressional testimony by current and former psychiatric physicians in the VHA, low pay, inadequate training and long hiring processes were identified as barriers to developing and maintaining a robust psychiatric workforce at the VHA. Current policy makes it extremely difficult for the VHA to compete with other public and private entities in offering employment incentives such as medical school loan repayments.

The Ensuring Veterans’ Resiliency Act would:
  • Establish a three-year demonstration program under the VA modeled on the Department of Defense (DOD) Health Professions Loan Repayment Program, which offers physicians up to $60,000 in medical school loan repayment for each year of services;
  • Authorize the VA to recruit at least ten psychiatrists into the loan repayment program each year. The VA would hire these physicians permanently to fill full-time vacant positions;
  • Require the program participants to demonstrate a long-term commitment to the VA;
  • Require a report to Congress on the program’s impact on psychiatric vacancies and recruitment; and
  • Authorize a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on pay disparities among psychiatrists at the VA.
H.R. 4234 has been referred to the Subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

AAGP strongly supports legislative efforts to help ensure that our nation’s veterans, who often face significant mental health challenges, have access to quality mental health care. more

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