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McCaskill proposes pay increase for VA facility directors

The John Cochran veterans facility on North Grand Boulevard.
Donna Korando | St. Louis Public Radio

The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for a few good directors, actually more than a few. System wide the department has been dealing with a lack of qualified candidates to run its beleaguered health-care facilities. In St. Louis, the top job has been posted seven times since 2013.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says the “majority of the time they posted this position, they got no applicants.” To remedy that shortage of qualified applicants, McCaskill is introducing legislation today to allow VA facilities to increase pay for directors.She says that while doctors and medical professionals at VA facilities are being paid market rates, directors are not. “And the directors at these facilities are making -- at their highest point -- less than half of what medical directors are making in the private sector.”  She says it’s no wonder the system can’t attract qualified applicants. 

“I know people want to serve their country and they want to serve veterans, but it would be hard to tell your family ‘I’m going to make less than half what I could make anywhere else,’” McCaskill said.

McCaskill sees the department’s problem of not being able to attract qualified candidates to run its facilities as a “key part of the dysfunction of this organization ... we don’t have leadership in place. So, hopefully this bill will help” to attract and retain qualified directors at its facilities.

Both McCaskill, and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., have expressed repeated concerns over the time it is taking to name a new permanent director for the St. Louis facility. The two have joined in letters to the current acting director of the facility and to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald asking that everything be done that can be to quickly fill the position in St. Louis.

In a conference call with Missouri reporters Thursday morning, McCaskill said she did not know how much her proposal would cost as she was waiting for those numbers to be calculated.

A spokesman for Blunt said the senator had not heard about McCaskill’s proposal as of this morning and wanted to see the bill before commenting on the idea. 

For his part, Blunt frequently argues the Department of Veterans Affairs is so poorly managed that veterans should be allowed to visit the private sector hospitals he says many drive by on their way to VA facilities.