Physical therapists are routinely employed at Veterans Administration hospitals around the country to help veterans regain their mobility and range of motion after injuries and illness. Because physical therapists are employed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, they are considered federal government employees and are paid under the federal GS pay scale.
Physical therapists positions at VA hospitals tend to start at a grade 9 with a potential for promotion to grade 11. Under the 2011 GS pay scale, this means the annual salary for a physical therapist can range from $41,563 to $65,371. These salary numbers are reviewed annually and may be adjusted up or down. Depending on experience, a physical therapist can start at a higher level then grade 9, step 1, which would increase the base salary, at time of publication.
The federal government has offices in every state, and recognizes there are cost-of-living differences between locations. Because of this, the federal government also offers locality pay for all areas. This is an adjustment in the pay rates for federal workers living in certain areas. Locality pay can add thousands to annual pay, or nothing. For instance, VA physical therapists in Atlanta earn $49,581 to $77,981 a year. This is a 19.3 percent increase in the base salary. Most locality pay areas are centered around metropolitan areas where there is a higher cost of living. If a location is not part of any of the government's metropolitan statistical areas, there is still a 14.16 percent locality pay increase.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for physical therapists employed by the federal government in 2009 was $75,500 a year. The VA employs nearly 1,000 physical therapists. The middle 50 percent of federal physical therapists earned between $71,000 and $80,920 a year. These salaries combine all pay for physical therapists no matter the level or locality pay. Because VA hospitals are centered where they service many people, they are in areas with higher locality pay, which raises the average. The same is true if the therapists are more experienced, as a whole, and working at the higher end of their pay range.
To be eligible for employment as a physical therapist at a VA hospital, a candidate must be a U.S. citizen, pass a pre-employment exam, speak English proficiently, pass a background/security check and pass a random drug test. Physical therapists need to have a degree in physical therapy from a college or university program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation on Physical Therapy Education. Non-licensed physical therapists can receive a temporary appointment that is good for two years while the candidate pursues a license.