After leaving them untouched for nearly 25 years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has adopted new qualification standards for PTAs that includes opportunities for higher-level duties and a significant boost in pay scales. The changes, advocated for by APTA since 2017, are a significant step in better recognition of the value of PTA positions within the Veterans Health Administration, and they could make VA a more competitive employer.
Under new standards released on Jan. 28, VA sets the full PTA performance level at GS-8 grade level (starting at $41,723) with opportunities to reach GS-10 ($65,976 is the top step at this level); previously, GS-8 was the highest performance level available to PTAs, although few were working at this level. (The salary figures are base rates; GS level pay can vary by geographic location.)
The changes in grade levels reflect revised language around PTA’s qualifications and their knowledge, skills, and abilities at various levels of experience and expertise. Approximately 500 PTAs are employed by VA.
"This is a real win for PTAs in the Veterans Health Administration," said Kara Gainer, APTA's director of regulator affairs. "For many years, PTAs in VA were assigned to GS levels that were not in line with their education and licensure levels. With these updates, VA PTAs will be eligible for pay that's competitive with their private sector counterparts, something that could help expand the PTA workforce at VA and improve patient access to medically necessary rehab services."
Gainer added that raising the GS levels also helps VA engage in better succession planning, and expands the ability of PTAs to pursue other roles within the organization.
The recognition of PTAs appears to be growing among uniformed services and veteran-focused federal agencies. In addition to the VA changes, the U.S. Department of Defense's primary health insurer for uniformed service members — TRICARE — has recognized PTAs as authorized providers, a change operationalized in spring of 2020.
In 2019, APTA entered into a formal partnership with VA to, among other activities, "create new employment and practice opportunities."