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Guidance on Appointment of Year Long Trainees: Eligibility for Federal Health and Life Insurance

Associated Health trainees appointed for more than 1 year are eligible to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefit (FEHB) and the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) Programs. Since a change in law in 2000, trainees who require 1 or more years of training and who are funded by OAA for 1 or more years of training may be appointed for a period not to exceed (NTE) 3 years, thereby qualifying them to participate in federal health benefits and life insurance programs (38 U.S.C., Part V, Section 7405 (c) (3) (A)).

It was clearly the intent of Congress and of VA, including the Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA), that year-long trainees have health and life benefits, but a trainee must be appointed for longer than a year to be eligible for these benefits. Thus, each year there is confusion about how year-long trainees should be appointed. To clarify, OAA issued VHA Directive 2002-064. While the Directive has passed its scheduled expiration date, it remains operative policy. OAA had intended to have Handbooks ready to replace this Directive, but they have been delayed for over two years in the concurrence process. As a result, the Directive has never been rescinded and remains the operative policy. Reference to federal statutes that cover this situation is included in that directive. The key section of Directive 2002-064 is copied below.

d. Section 204 of the Veterans Benefits and Health Care Improvement Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-419) amended section 7405(c) to permit the appointment of full-time medical support personnel (including associated health trainees) on a temporary basis, not to exceed (NTE) 3 years, with renewals permitted for like periods. With the change in the law, trainees requiring 1 or more years of training may be appointed for a period NTE 3 years, thereby qualifying them to participate in Federal health benefits and insurance programs. These changes should enhance VHA’s ability to recruit the best and the brightest trainees to participate in the care of veterans. Many trainees are recruited to VA employment upon completion of their training so this change will also impact on the future VA workforce.

Thus, per policy, trainees must be appointed for greater than one year, even if the training program lasts only one year. This does not mean that the training program or payment of the trainee has to exceed one year, only that the appointment must exceed one year. There are three ways to handle these appointments locally and still insure that trainees receive the benefits to which they are entitled. A medical center may decide which of these routes to follow; such decisions should involve discussion between the Education Office, the training program directors, and HR.

  1. Appointment for 3 Years. In the Directive cited above, OAA recommended that full year trainees be given temporary appointments NTE 3 years, with termination of the appointment upon conclusion of the training period – i.e., at the one year point. When the appointment is NTE 3 years, there appears to be no confusion. In this scenario, the appointment is NTE 3 years, even though program duration and stipends are for only one year. This option remains viable, though a program must make it clear in its advertising and letters to trainees that the duration of the program is one year and not three.
  2. Appointment for 366 Days, Termination after 365 Days. Some HR departments prefer to make appointments for 1 year and 1 day (366 days, or, for example, from July 1 through July 1). If the trainee is appointed via this mechanism, the appointment may be terminated at the conclusion of the year of training, for example, on June 30.
  3. Appointment for 366 Days, Program Duration of 366 Days. Some HR departments prefer to make appointments for 1 year and 1 day (366 days, or, for example, from July 1 through July 1). If the trainee is appointed via this mechanism, the training program and the facility may choose actually to extend the training year to 366 days and to pay the trainee for the full year and a day. If a facility chooses this option, OAA will provide the needed funds to cover that extra day.