Conversations: W. Scott Gould

Hiring to expand veterans' services: Q&A with W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs

Interview by Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to hire roughly 105,000 employees in the next two years as part of the Obama administration's expansion of benefits and services for veterans. Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould talked Monday about the hiring plans and other department operations.

Q Who exactly are you looking for? Just doctors and nurses or claims folks?

We're looking for medical professionals: Doctors, nurses top our lists. Also claims processors. We're putting a big emphasis on clearing through the backlog. Obviously, in addition to new technology and better processes, we need good people to make those judgments.

How's this going to work? Besides a $12.4 million television ad campaign, are there recruitment fairs at medical schools or some other outreach?

We're airing on the Olympics; we're on all the major award shows. We think it's a brand-new way of getting out in front of folks and letting them be aware of what the VA has to offer. In addition to that, we're looking to streamline our internal processes. So when someone calls, they express an interest, they're going to find a more customer-friendly VA.

Pretend I'm a med student who's plotting my post-school plans. What would be the sales pitch?

Number one, the mission. Taking care of our veterans, taking care of the people who have protected our freedom over time. I can't think of a better synergy and overlap between a physician who wants to do something for their community and heartfelt service to veterans. The second would be leadership that gets it. Leadership that's prepared to invest in them and develop their careers over time. And the third thing I'd say is that we're growing.

Let's talk salary and benefits: Is it comparable if one goes to the VA vs. a private hospital?

Surprisingly, yes. Under Title 38 [regarding veterans' benefits], we have the capacity to pay up to $400,000 a year for a physician. . . . We're not as high-paying as the highest-paying, but we think we have very respectable compensation.

In addition, you don't have to buy insurance, and you can practice medicine anywhere in the country, as long as you have one state where you passed your certification. So it's a flexible career; it's one where you can move without having to undergo the burden of repeated exams and licensure.

One of the big concerns generally with federal hiring, but also at VA, is backlog. What guarantee can you give an applicant right now that if they apply they will know within a reasonable amount of time? What is a reasonable amount of time?

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