Wenstrup Reintroduces VA Provider Equity Act
Congressman Brad Wenstrup (OH-02), Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee who served as a combat surgeon in Iraq, introduced the bipartisan VA Provider Equity Act, (H.R. 1058). This legislation aims to improve access to care for millions of veterans by increasing pay and leadership opportunities for podiatrists at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). It would fix long-standing disparities between VA podiatrists and other specialty care physicians – and help provide equity with the private sector -- enabling the VA to better recruit and retain experienced podiatrists.
“Increased injury from IEDs in the last decade of war highlights a unique need our veteran population faces over the next decades: lower extremity care. The VA must have the tools to provide consistent and timely health care to our veterans and to attract high quality providers across all specialties, podiatry included,” said Chairman Wenstrup.
Veterans face increasing numbers of foot and ankle ailments, including diabetic-related complications, peripheral neuropathy often linked to Agent Orange exposure, orthopedic maladies, and vascular compromise, with 1.8 million veterans at risk of amputation. As of 2015, 93% of new podiatry patients wait more than 15 days for an appointment, and podiatry is the 4th most referred-out surgical service to community care.
This problem is self-imposed. VA lags behind the private sector in pay and leadership opportunities for podiatrists. VA's qualifications for podiatrists were developed in 1976 and have not been updated in the 39 years since. In that time, the practice of podiatry has evolved significantly. Today, podiatrists receive education and training comparable to that of other medical doctors. Yet, VA podiatrists are paid on the special Title 38 scale for podiatrists, optometrists, and chiropractors, while a VA M.D. or D.O. is paid on a separate physician pay scale, which has significantly higher salaries. Further, many podiatrists join the VA with less than 10 years’ experience and without board certification; they stay long enough to earn board certification and then leave the VA for more pay or for a leadership position elsewhere. This means the VA is attracting less experienced podiatrists when they have a patient population that is more complex. H.R. 1058 will address these issues and improve veterans’ access to much needed podiatric care.
Congressman Wenstrup also introduced this legislation last Congress, which was included in H.R. 3016, the Veterans Employment, Education, and Healthcare Improvement Act, and passed the House on February 9, 2016.
Support of Veteran Service Organizations:
Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Commander Dave Riley: “Having served in the military himself, Dr. Wenstrup knows we cannot overstate the importance of employing and retaining highly specialized VA physicians to treat the increasingly common musculoskeletal conditions that plague many of the nation’s veterans. Podiatrists play a critical role in managing the care and treatment of foot and ankle injuries and diseases for acutely ill and injured as well as aging veterans. As such, DAV believes these practitioners’ status should be commensurate with other VA physicians, as is supported by a national resolution approved by our 1.3 million members. We appreciate Dr. Wenstrup’s continued commitment and leadership concerning this legislation, and with the backing of our membership, we urge its passage.”
American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt: "On behalf of the 2.2 million members of The American Legion, I would like to express our support for the VA Provider Equity Act. This bill, as written, would enhance the Department of Veterans Affairs’ ability to recruit and retain top talent by alleviating pay disparities among those physicians who are providing direct health care to our nation's veterans. It would specifically place podiatrists within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) on the same pay schedule as VA physicians and provide them with the same career opportunities they often hold in the private sector healthcare systems. It will also help VA to attract and retain more experienced podiatrists to treat our nation's veterans. Quality podiatry is essential to treating the high number of veterans suffering from lower extremity issues. This change would put a podiatrist in the same classification as all other physicians.”