BURLINGTON, Vt., Oct. 13 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald met with medical students at the University of Vermont today as part of a recruiting drive to bring more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals into the VA.
Legislation that Sanders shepherded through Congress in July includes $5 billion for the VA to recruit more health care professionals to care for the rapidly-growing number of veterans. The Veterans Access, Choice, And Accountability Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Aug. 7.
VA facilities in parts of the United States have strained to meet demands caused by a surge in veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sanders, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the major VA reform measure will help end unacceptable waits for appointments to see doctors at some medical centers and clinics.
“We need more doctors and we need more nurses,” Sanders said. “We put $5 billion in place to make sure we can attract some of the best and brightest to serve our veterans."
“We need your help,” McDonald, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble, told the medical students. His recruiting initiative is aimed at bringing the best and brightest health professionals to the VA to expand access to care for veterans.
He said the VA reform bill improved an education debt repayment program for medical professions. “We want to pay off your student loans,” McDonald told the UVM medical school students. He also said VA hopes to increase salaries for VA medical professionals.
“I'm thrilled to be in Vermont with Chairman Sanders. Just over a month ago, I launched a national recruitment initiative to bring professionals we need to provide veterans with the high-quality care they have earned through their service,” McDonald said. “We need the best and brightest to serve our nation's heroes. Doctors at our medical centers tell me that there's no better patient.”
After the meeting at UVM, Sanders and McDonald headed to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, to make the case there for doctors to enter careers in the health care system.