Bolstering Care for Veterans Aim of Bipartisan Tester, Boozman Bill

Senators introduced VA CAREERS Act day one of legislative session to tackle chronic medical personnel shortages across the country through increased recruitment and retention flexibilities

(U.S. Senate) – Kicking off the new Congress, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at bolstering recruitment and retention of clinicians at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The VA Clinician Appreciation, Recruitment, Education, Expansion, and Retention Support (CAREERS) Act would provide VA with more tools to compete for highly qualified medical personnel, support training for current and future VA clinicians to ensure veterans receive the highest quality of care, and provide more oversight and public transparency on VA’s efforts to address vacancies. This legislation would also better prepare VA to manage care for the thousands of veterans newly eligible under the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

“As Chairman, I often hear from veterans in Montana and across the country about the lack of providers in rural communities,” said Tester. “We need VA to hire providers faster and be able to retain high-quality talent in rural areas. That’s why I’m proud to be joining my friend Senator Boozman on this bipartisan effort to ensure VA can recruit the best and brightest clinicians to help deliver veterans—including those in rural areas—their earned health care and benefits.”   

“As I visit with VA personnel across Arkansas, they frequently describe the persistent challenges with filling critical roles to provide care to veterans,” said Boozman. “Our legislation expands the VA workforce in communities nationwide and creates a sustainable pipeline, strengthening its ability to attract expert physicians. Ensuring the VA is properly staffed is key to fulfilling our promise to the men and women who served in uniform.”

“DAV has long advocated for the Department of Veterans Affairs to have the highest quality medical professionals within its health care facilities, and with the growing number of veterans expected to enter the VA health care system in the coming decades, along with the ever-changing job market in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains increasingly imperative that VA has the necessary tools to grow and strengthen its workforce,” said Joy Ilem, National Legislative Director of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). “This important, bipartisan legislation would bolster VA’s ability to retain the most highly-skilled physicians and other senior clinicians by more easily matching and advertising market rate salaries, thereby remaining competitive with the private sector. DAV strongly supports the VA CAREERS Act of 2023 and commends Sens. Tester and Boozman for their bipartisan leadership in ensuring the VA health system remains filled with health care professionals who are able to provide the highest quality care to our nation’s veterans, their families, and survivors.”

Among its many provisions the Senators’ VA CAREERS Act will:

  • Modernize VA’s antiquated pay system for physicians and other high-level clinicians, which will particularly benefit rural and other hard-to-hire markets;
  • Pay for licensure exam costs for future clinicians participating in VA scholarship programs;
  • Expand eligibility for more health care staff to be reimbursed for ongoing professional education costs; and
  • Increase and fine-tune VA’s workforce data reporting requirements to help VA and Congress be better informed on how to improve the hiring and onboarding process for future employees enterprise-wide.

The PACT Act, a bipartisan law signed into law in August to deliver toxic-exposed veterans their earned care and benefits, included several provisions to bolster VA’s workforce, especially in rural areas. This included resources for VA to increase hiring and retention, develop a national VA Rural Recruitment and Hiring Plan, and buy-out non-VA service contracts for health care professionals. The law also increased the cap VA can pay towards student loan repayments and provides an easier pathway to those new to the workforce, either in or recently finished their higher education, to work at the Department.

Text of the VA CAREERS Act can be found HERE