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VA announces pay hikes as high as $35,000 for VA doctors and dentists

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald speaks during a news conference at Veterans Affairs Department September 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Department of Veterans on Thursday announced it will increase the maximum salaries for doctors and dentists within the Veterans Health Administration by as much as $35,000, which will come on top of salaries that can exceed $200,000 or even $300,000 per year.

The announcement comes just weeks after complaints that the VA's health providers don't work full schedules. It also comes in the midst of an ongoing scandal in which veterans had to wait months and even years to get a health appointment, as VA officials delayed those appointments and in some cases covered up their actions.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, run by Secretary Robert McDonald, is announce big pay increases for the VA's medical staff. Alex Wong/Getty Images

The VA published a notice in the Federal Register that boosts the maximum possible pay for the VA's health providers. While it doesn't increase the minimum pay for these workers, it does increase the maximum salaries by significant amounts, in some cases by tens of thousands of dollars.

For example, health workers who specialize in endocrinology, infectious diseases and preventive medicine will be split into three tiers when it comes to salary. Tier I ranges from $98,967 to $215,000 — that's $20,000 more than the Tier I maximum current in effect at the VA.

Some health service providers in pathology, gynecology and other specialities will also be eligible for pay hikes of $20,000 at the top end.

Those in fields like cardiology, dermatology, gastroenterology and oral surgery could see increases as high as $35,000. The new pay table for people in those professions will see maximum salaries as high as $300,000, $310,000 and $320,000 — the lowest maximum salary under current rules is $256,000.

Pay maximums for chiefs of staff will rise by $25,000, as high as $300,000.

The highest maximum pay under the table — $385,000 per year — is for medical professionals with specialties in cardio-thoracic surgery, interventional cardiology and radiology, neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery. But that maximum is unchanged from current practice.

The VA said the pay tables are aimed at reflecting "the recruitment and retention needs for the specialty or assignment of a particular physician or dentist at a facility." The VA also said the pay scale is meant to accommodate "special employment situations, from fellowships and medical research career development awards to Nobel Laureates, high-cost areas, and internationally renowned clinicians."

In July, a VA whistleblower said he determined that VA psychiatrists were spending just 3.5 hours a day with patients. That followed complaints from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a doctor himself, who said VA medical staff is seeing about half the number of patients that private doctors see.

Congress approved legislation earlier this year allowing the VA secretary to fire officials involved in the scandal, generally perceived to be non-medical staff who manipulated wait-time data to create the appearance that veterans were getting care on time. But so far, McDonald does not appear to have fired anyone, prompting calls from some in the Senate that he needs to use this authority.

Read the VA's new pay tables here:

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