UC/VA Appointments

Many Health Sciences Principal Investigators have a Joint UC/VA Appointment. A Joint UC/VA Appointment allows faculty members to have an appointment at the University and at the VA hospital.These appointments are represented in 8ths which are indicative of the number of hours a week at each institution. The maximum number of hours these dual appointees can work a week is 60 hours. The investigator's total percentage of time available for research is based on the number of 8ths and UCSD clinical and departmental commitments. At no point can the total percentage of paid time between the two organizations exceed 150% or 60 hours a week. In addition, no time at a single organization can exceed 100% or 40 hours.

Faculty with joint UC/VA appointments may submit application proposals through either UCSD or the Veteran's Medical Research Foundation (VMRF). The determination of which institution should submit the proposal is based upon the "preponderance of research." This is determined by budgeted salaries. If 50% or more of budgeted proposal salaries will be "earned" in VA space, then the preponderance of research will be in VA space and VMRF will submit the proposal application. If less than 50% of the activities will be conducted in VA space, then UCSD will submit the proposal. Please take note of the following exceptions to this guidance:

  • Career awards and training grants, funded by NIH or any other agency, must be submitted through UCSD, even if the preponderance of research is at the VA.
  • Multi-project applications (PPGs) may require subcontracts to the non-submitting organization.
  • Multiple-PI applications are to be submitted by the organization where the contact PI will primarily carry out his or her research. A sub-award will be issued out to the PI who will be performing a majority of the work at the VA.
UCSD policy requires salary to be budgeted for all PI effort, no matter how small the effort, for all funding agencies. Unbudgeted effort greater than 5% requires cost sharing documentation. VA salary and time should never be used for cost sharing on applications.See Salary/Effort Concerns for Additional Information.

Faculty effort and salary budgeted on applications are against the UCSD appointment for both UCSD and VMRF submitted applications. The salary rates used are UCSD pay rates and cannot include VA salary in the institutional base rate. Please note that departments should use the NIH salary cap when applicable. UCSD Faculty and certain UCSD staff salaries budgeted on VMRF grants will paid by UCSD through Personnel Agreements (PAs) issued by VMRF to UCSD. Paying faculty salary through UCSD can maximize UC employee benefits such as retirement and helps reduce the possibility of duplicate or over-payment.

For all faculty with UC/VA appointments, a UC/VA Worksheet should be included with the internal forms. The worksheet indicates the total effort committed to the specific project and the percentage of their overall responsibilities between the two institutions.  The statement from the UC/VA worksheet must be included in the budget justification of the proposal application.

"Dr. X holds a joint UC/VA appointment. Salary support requested represents X% of his/her UC pay rate and X% of his/her overall professional responsibilities."

Although effort is represented in calendar months for most agencies, the UC/VA worksheet uses percentages of effort and does not need to be converted when added to the budget justification.

NIH policy requires that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) be kept on file for faculty with joint appointments who are paid on NIH grants. The MOU states the distribution of the individual's time between the VA and UCSD and its intent is to demonstrate that NIH is not duplicating salary already paid by the VA. Frequently, they will ask for this documentation and the Just-In-Time phase or before a Notice of Award is issued.

When an MOU is requested, the department should contact the HS SPPO analyst immediately and provide them with the investigator's Other Support documentation and a breakdown of their clinical time (if any) at the VA. Please note that the Other Support should clearly indicate which funding is through UCSD, VMRF, and/or the VA. Once this has been received, the MOU Analyst will create the MOU and send it to the department for approval. The MOU is then signed by the individual, the UCSD chair, the VA, VMRF (if applicable) and the Dean of the School of Medicine. The MOU should be updated whenever an investigator's appointment changes, or at least annually.

Revised MOU Template

Background and History of UC-VA Relations

In an effort to attract higher quality physicians to serve at VA Hospitals, the VA Administration began entering into affiliations with nearby universities around the country to offer joint appointments to their physicians.

A Joint VA-University appointment would enable the holder to have an academic appointment at a nearby university and provide the opportunity to obtain research funding through the submission of grant applications through the partnering university. Veterans would enjoy higher quality medical care and the partnering university would be able to expand their medical faculty, and have greater access to training opportunities for their medical students and residents.

UCSD’s Medical School opened in 1965 at the beginning of a budget crunch. Limited state funds were available for medical faculty FTEs, and for constructing buildings.
While UCSD acquired the county hospital in Hillcrest from San Diego, the hospital was located a distance from the campus, and there was still the problem of limited FTEs and research space on the campus.

Construction of the VA hospital next to the campus was a win-win solution. UCSD was able to higher more faculty without much increase in costs, plus the new VA hospital provided much needed laboratory space for these new faculty.

Joint appointments at UCSD “wrapped” around the VA appointment. Faculty were guaranteed a set salary between the two institutions, with UCSD making up the difference if the VA appointment was reduced for any reason (such as changes in demands of the VA medical service). At the time, VA salaries were low, so the VA benefited since they were able to offer higher compensation without having to come up with the extra dollars.

Initially, NIH could not allow compensation for work done on NIH grant by VA employees. The Federal Government took the position that as federal employees, VA faculty were already compensated by the federal government. Overtime this became a bigger and bigger issue with joint appointment faculty since the feeling was they were putting in far more hours than the VA 40 hour work week. UCSD faculty took the lead in lobbying NIH for change. NIH was granted an exception by the Federal government to allow compensation for “reasonable” additional effort on NIH grants, outside of the federal 40 hour workweek.

On 8/11/89 NIH issued a new NIH Guideline which “Clarifies how applicants/offerers may assure peer reviewers and staff that the time proposed for a particular project is available from among their total professional commitments, including that to the VA.”

The 8/11/89 NIH Guide spelled out the requirement to have Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) on file for joint VA/University appointments for investigators on NIH proposals.

It reaffirmed “the longstanding practice which permits VA investigators to conduct research through affiliated universities which avoiding conflicts of commitment among their total professional responsibilities…” out of its concern “that investigators have the time available to carry out the proposed research” and that “there is no possibility of dual compensation (University plus VA salary) for the same work….”

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by both the University and the VAMC was to provide assurance that there was no possibility of “dual” compensation.

Joint appointment was defined as “a total set of professional responsibilities mutually arranged by the university and an affiliated VA hospital. The combination of teaching, research, consulting, administration, and clinical activities at both the university and the VA comprises 100% of an individual’s total professional responsibilities.

The PHS Policy Statement, replaced by the NIH Policy Statement 10/1/98, through the years has consistently stated that “The joint VA/university appointment of the investigator constitutes 100 percent of his or her total professional responsibilities. NIH will recognize such a joint appointment only when a university and an affiliated VA hospital are the parties involved.”

According to the 8/18/89 Guide “The VA commitment should be expressed as hours per week, such as 25 hours (based on a 40-hour work-week). This commitment does not necessarily limit the corresponding university appointment to 15 hours per week, but the individual’s overall set of responsibilities must meet the test of reasonableness.”

Discussions and correspondence between COGR and NIH regarding 8/8 appointees arrived at a 60 hour work week (40 hours for an 8/8 VA appointment plus an additional 20 hours University time) as meeting the test of “reasonableness”. However, a 60 hour work week was never written into NIH policy. While UCSD accepted 60 hours as the basis for MOUs, and in fact, other institutions around the county have adopted other hourly maximums for their work week.

UCSD began budgeting salary for joint VA faculty effort. But unfortunately, due to the method the School of Medicine used to set up UC-VA appointments in the payroll system, initially the entire guaranteed salary was used as the institutional base payrate for grant applications.

Meantime, UCSD’s VA was concerned about unreimbursed costs it was absorbing for the conduct of research in its hospital. UCSD offered to share a portion of its overhead with the VA for those projects, but the problem was in providing access to those funds.
University regulations did not permit UCSD to set up a spending account for the VA to access
Turning the funds over the VA was a problem, since any monies coming into a
VA account, was by law, to be handled as an off-set to the VA budget.

This was also a problem for industry-sponsored clinical trials at the VA – any clinical trial income was treated as an off-set. The result was there was no incentive for VA doctors to conduct clinical trials. Congress finally granted the VA permission to establish affiliated non-profits for the purpose of negotiating and accepting clinical trial funds without losing those funds to the VA administration. The San Diego VA established its local Veterans Medical Research Foundation for this purpose.

As negotiations between UCSD and the VA over sharing the cost of research conducted in VA space came to an impasse, the VA Research Office finally announced in the late 1990s that for any research conducted in VA space, grant applications would have to be submitted through its VMRF. Faculty were threatened with loss of their VA space if they failed to comply, and VMRF began to submit NIH grant applications that previously would have been submitted through USCD. An affiliation agreement between UCSD and VMRF was finally signed in 1999 recognizing VMRF’s right to submit grant applications for UCSD faculty, and also allowing for the receipt of joint personnel agreements (JPAs) to reimburse UCSD for salary paid to faculty and staff working on VMRF awarded projects.

In 2004 additional changes to joint UCSD-VA faculty appointments came about due to a directive form UCOP altering the way faculty appointments and salaries were to be handled. Originally at UCSD, faculty with joint appointments were set up in the payroll system with their 100% combined salaries, and with their VA income entered as an offset. This provided the basis for using the 100% joint salary as their institutional base in grant applications, but was unfortunately illegal since it also provided those faculty with credit in two retirement systems for the same pay. A major effort was undertaken in 2004 to reeducate faculty regarding the change, and served as the basis for the VA salary worksheet and statement used in UCSD grant applications.