The VA is actively working to help pass a bill that would increase the competitiveness of pay for its ODs.
As America’s largest integrated healthcare system, the US Department of Veterans Affairs employs thousands of optometrists in more than 800 medical facilities around the country. However, due to pay discrepancies that exist between community and VA optometrists, many of these clinics struggle to recruit and retain enough eyecare physicians to meet the demand.
“Currently, starting VA salaries for new graduates most often times do not compete with offers made by community settings,” says Marc Myers, OD, who has been practicing optometry within the VA system for more than 15 years. “In addition, the rate at which a salary may increase and the cap that an optometrist can earn has contributed to experienced optometrists leaving VA service for higher salaries offered in the community,” he notes.
Recognizing that more competitive pay could help address clinic vacancies—in turn, allowing more veterans to access eye care—the VA introduced a bipartisan bill in January of this year known as the VA CAREERS Act, which stands for VA Clinician Appreciation, Recruitment, Education, Expansion and Retention Support. The legislation proposes that optometrists at the VA be included as physician-level providers (a list currently made up of MDs, DOs, dentists, and podiatrists at the VA). “Optometrists and chiropractors are the only remaining doctorate-level, direct prescribers not currently on the list,” Dr. Myers points out.
The bill—SB 10, which currently awaits a vote on the Senate floor—is receiving the active support of the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the Armed Forces Optometric Society, as well as veterans’ advocacy organizations including American Veterans and the Disabled American Veterans. If passed, it would accomplish the following, according to a recent article on the AOA’s website1:
- Make optometrists at the VA eligible for supervisory positions now available to a medical doctor, osteopath, dentist or podiatrist.
- Increase the salary cap for ODs at the VA.
- Make VA optometrists eligible for $1,000 in annual CE costs, as other VA doctors are.
Dr. Myers notes that an increase in the current pay limitation for VA optometrists would provide parity to the current pay of optometrists within the VA. In addition to incentivizing existing VA optometrists to retain their positions, the increased salary cap may also encourage more ODs to choose an initial career path at the VA after graduation.
US veterans will also benefit directly from the VA CAREERS Act if it becomes law. “Primary eye care with the VA system includes a significant amount of medical management of ocular diseases that occur secondary to systemic disease and diagnoses associated with aging,” Dr. Myers explains. “As the VA strives to improve access to care for our Veterans, the VA CAREERS Act should improve staffing limitations within eye clinics, the majority of which are staffed by optometrists.”
Once SB-10 is voted on by the Senate, it will move forward to the House for consideration.
Doctors who wish to support the bill can contact the AOA to learn more about how to get involved with advocacy efforts.
1. Bill seeks physician-level recognition, more competitive pay and advancement opportunities for VA doctors of optometry. American Optometric Association. Published February 23, 2023. https://www.aoa.org/news/advocacy/federal-advocacy/bill-seeks-advancement-for-va-doctors-of-optometry?sso=y. Accessed February 28, 2023.