Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo has introduced legislation that would make veterans healthcare centers eligible to hire healthcare providers from a program that helps pay medical school expenses for providers who take jobs in underserved areas.

The director of the Iowa Veterans’ Home in Marshalltown, Dr. Douglas Steenblock, brought the idea to Braley. “If you want to attract the best medical providers, there has to be some sort of incentive involved,” Steenblock says. “And I think that loan repayment — especially for an early career provider — is a very powerful incentive.”

 Steenblock says the coverage includes medical and dental providers, but it would be the biggest help for him in getting mental health professionals to come to Marshalltown. “We have had difficulty here recruiting and retaining mental health professionals at the veterans’ home. We have not been fully staffed in our mental health department since 2010, at that time we had four psychologists,” Steenblock says.

They now have just one psychologist on staff. Steenblock says there are some unique issues facing his facility as they look to hire new staff.  According to Dr. Steenblock, one of issues is that they have a “niche” population of veterans that suffer from specific problems like post traumatic stress syndrome, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, and they are predominately male.  “So we have to find providers who have an interest in those niche areas and who have expertise in those areas.”  

The bill would allow Steenblock and others at veterans facilities to hire people form the National Health Service Corps fellows program. Steenblock is himself a former fellow of the National Health Service Corps.