- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Congress passed an important law in 2004 that Veterans Affairs is implementing. This law, the Department of Veterans Affairs Personnel Enhancement Act, Public Law 108-445, is a dramatic reform in the way VA pays 15,000 physicians and dentists. In fact, this law is the first change of the basic system of pay since Congress passed the Organic Act of 1946, an act that established pay policies for VA physicians and dentists. Although Congress adjusted the actual rates of pay many times, the system of pay has remained the same.

In 2003, VA urged Congress to pass a new approach — VA’s top health care legislative priority for the 108th Congress — because VA was “in a critical situation with increasing needs of veterans for health care while our current pay system leaves us in a very noncompetitive position for recruiting the staff we need today and into the future.”

VA’s legislative bill was supported by veterans organizations, federal unions and professional associations, all of whom expressed concern that VA be able to obtain the tools to attract and retain the best doctors and dentists for sick and disabled veterans.

VA met congressional intent in implementing this law. Some professional and labor organization stakeholders, including the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association, have indicated that VA did not consult with them after the law passed. These stakeholders were involved in creating a legal framework acceptable to their members, but then were denied further opportunity to advise VA in its application.

No VA physicians regularly caring for patients participated, and VA did not consult its largest employee union. VA leaders should have observed congressional intent and should have consulted VA physicians, dentists and their union representatives in establishing the new procedures that govern basic pay, market pay, performance elements and tiers of pay among specialties.

As you know, VA physicians, dentists and oral surgeons are caregivers, educators and researchers. They are the engines of VA health care. This act was intended for their benefit, to keep them providing outstanding care to veterans. VA should have involved representatives of professions in their establishment and implementation, as Congress directed.

Sgt. Shaft, I hope you will urge VA to engage both labor and professional associations, that remain concerned about the new pay and performance system. The veterans that VA caregivers serve are the true beneficiaries.

Sincerely,

R.S.

Silver Spring

Dear R.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Personnel Enhancement Act of 2004 directed that, “In determining the amount of market pay for physicians or dentists, the Secretary shall consult two or more national surveys of pay for physicians or dentists, as applicable.”

At the time, the undersecretary for health with the VA testified to Congress in October 2003 that the annual survey results by the American Dental Association would be the VA benchmark in this law for compensation of dentists. The Veterans Health Administration Steering Committee met last year to construct the new pay schedules to accommodate the medical and dental specialties in the VA system.

Most of the recommended pay tables for physicians mirror the survey data from the private sector. However, the recommended pay tables for all dental specialties fall far below the survey data from the American Dental Association.

In November, the president of the American Dental Association wrote to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson expressing concern over this discrepancy in pay for VA dentists. It is essential that this discrepancy in pay for VA dental specialists, as compared with the detailed compensation tables from the American Dental Association annual surveys, be reconciled.

I urge the secretary to do no less.

Shaft notes

The 3rd Marine Division Association will hold its annual family reunion Aug. 9 to 13 in Milwaukee at the Hyatt Regency. Anyone who served in, was attached to or served in support of the 3rd Marine Division at any time since it was formed Sept. 16, 1942, is eligible and cordially invited to attend.

For membership and reunion information, contact retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Bill Krueger at 703/451-3844 or 7622 or visit the Web site at: www.caltrap.com.

• It’s that time of year again; nutty buddy Jim Mayer is celebrating the 37th anniversary of the day he lost his legs in Vietnam, called his “alive day,” on April 25, 5:30 to 9 p.m. at Fran O’Brien’s Stadium Steakhouse, Touchdown Room 1001 16th St. NW (Capital Hilton). Please RSVP by Thursday to jimmayer@va.gov

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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