Written by: Katie Ashley

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) has recently announced its intention to “recruit [the] best and brightest” health care practitioners through increases in pay in order to better serve our nation’s veterans.  The proposed plan will raise the pay ceiling for prospective Veterans Health Administration (VHA) medical professionals.  Namely, there will be an annual pay bump of $20,000 to $35,000 for future physicians.  In addition to the salary boost, the VA plans to take additional measures such as partnering with local nursing programs as well as the Department of Defense Health Affairs, and developing a program to enlist more corpsmen and combat medics to join the ranks of VHA clinicians, among others.  Moreover, the VA boasts that it is the largest employer of medical practitioners and that more than 70% of all doctors in the United States have received training through the VA.

That being said, a 2014 survey by The Medicus Firm indicated that physicians continue to rank government employment as their last choice.  Health care providers from all over the country consistently show a lack of interest in working for the government, which includes working for the VA.  This disinterest among physicians in VA work, especially in long-term employment, has resulted in “[a] revolving door of short-term physicians,” which ultimately hurts our veterans.  This high degree of turnover explains how the VA can claim to be the largest employer of practitioners.  Having temporary medical professionals, and more notably, professionals who are less than interested in working in these positions, results in a lack of continuity of medical care, lack of attentive medical care, and an overall indifference towards the “noble and inspiring mission” of serving those who served us.

Although this proposed increase in pay may entice physicians to stay longer—ameliorating the continuity problem—I cannot see how dangling money in front of physicians to work in a position that the majority of all medical practitioners do not want is going to improve the care that our veterans receive.  The practitioners should not be in it for the money, they should not be in it as a stepping stool to obtain a bigger and better job, they should not be in it because there are no other jobs to choose from, but rather they should be in it to help those who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.  Even though more practitioners are needed, and the additional money may attract more prominent physicians than in the past, I cannot say that I would want a physician who is more motivated by money than my well-being.  At the end of the day, quality is better than quantity.

If this proposed pay raise results in improved care for our veterans, then I am all for it.  It is baffling to me why working in these positions is so undesired.  Our veterans watched out for our backs, and now it is time for us to better care for theirs.




Burn Pit Registry

September 17, 2014

Written by: Stephen Beaty

Anywhere you find people these days, you will find trash.  And somehow, someone must dispose of that trash.  Over the last 24 years of conflict in southwest Asia, the United States Military has burned a tremendous amount of trash.  As recently as mid-2008, officials at Joint Base Balad (also known colloquially as Camp Anaconda), near Balad, Iraq, acknowledged that approximately 147 tons of waste were being burned in open pits each day.  At that time, the military had installed 3 incinerators burning an additional 120 tons of waste.  The logical assumption is that prior to the incinerators, the entire daily trash supply was being burned in the open pits.  Every major military base in southwest Asia had burn pits.

Various opinions rage back and forth regarding the danger this smoke created for the inhabitants of the various military posts.  The debate centers around whether breathing the smoke from these burn pits was simply a hazard while it was being inhaled or whether it might create chronic disability in the years to come for the Servicemembers caught in the smog.

The Veterans Administration (VA) has set up a place for Servicemembers and veterans to register if they were exposed to smoke from the burn pits.  According to the VA website, the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry is designed to aid Veterans and Servicemembers “to become more aware of their health, to receive information about ongoing health studies and VA services, and to create a ‘snapshot’ of their health to assist discussing their health concerns with a health care provider.”  Veterans who are not currently receiving VA medical care are eligible for a free VA medical evaluation.  By registering and answering the online questionnaire, veterans and Servicemembers also help the VA to “monitor certain diseases and health conditions.”

To be eligible for the registry, people must either be an active duty Servicemember or a Veteran.  Like other VA benefits, dishonorably discharged Servicemembers are not eligible.  In addition, the Servicemember must meet certain time and location qualifications.  Personnel must have served with the United States Military in Afghanistan or Djibouti in support of OEF after 11 September 2001 or in the Southwest Asia theater of operations (as defined in 38 CFR 3.317 (e)(2)) region after 2 August 1990.  This theater includes the following countries, bodies of water, and the air space above these locations: Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and waters of the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and Red Sea.

For more information please visit: https://veteran.mobilehealth.va.gov/AHBurnPitRegistry.