How To Get A Job At A VA Hospital
By Kathleen Colduvell RN, BSN, BA, CBC
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides eligible veterans hospital care as well as outpatient care. This care includes preventative care, general and emergency surgery, mental health services, home care supplies, basic medical care, as well as alcohol and drug rehabilitation. Recently, there has been an overwhelming need for mental health services and drug and alcohol treatment.
A few of the more specific health care treatments that are treated at VA hospitals include,
- Blindness Rehabilitation
- Post-Traumatic Stress
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Agent Orange Exposure
- Gulf War Syndrome & Related Illnesses
- Radiation Exposure
- HIV/AIDS Treatment
According to VA.gov, the VA operates the largest healthcare system, with over 1,700 hospitals, clinics, community living centers, domiciliary, readjustment counseling centers, and other facilities. Approximately 9 million veterans are enrolled in the VA healthcare system. Every healthcare system has Patient Advocates to help navigate the healthcare system for military patients. They work with families to ensure that the patient has all the resources needed.
Each hospital and clinic have different services available to veterans. These Patient Advocates can help individuals get treatment at other facilities if needed. Specific VA hospitals specialize in certain medical and surgical fields. When inquiring about a position, keep in mind that not every hospital has an ICU, a psych floor, etc. This can be important if transitioning from another hospital to a VA hospital.
Nurses employed at VA hospitals care for patients who are active military as well as retired military and at times their families. Treatment of family members is contingent on benefits and is determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Employment at a VA hospital is not contingent on being military or from a military family. While positions are open to both military and civil employees the application process is slightly different. Military employees will apply through a separate application and will speak with specific HR representative. It is important to note there are a handful of nursing positions that are not open to the general public. This will be conveyed on the job information sheet.
In terms of obtaining a position at a VA hospital, it can be a long and tiresome process. It is not a job a nurse should apply for if they need immediate employment. Due to this fact, this is considered a government job, there are more background checks and verifications that need to occur prior to being offered a position. Additionally, the VA is very clear that if a nurse does not meet the requirements to not apply because they do not change the criteria or bend the requirements.
The requirements to apply for a nursing position at a VA hospital include the following,
- Must pass pre-employment examination
- Designated and/or Random Drug Testing required
- Background and/or Security Investigation required
- Must be proficient in written and spoken English
- You may be required to serve a probationary period
- Selective Service Registration is required for males born after 12/31/1959.
- This position is not required to file a financial disclosure report
- United States Citizenship
- Selected applicants will be required to complete an online onboarding process
- Graduate of a school of professional nursing approved by the appropriate State-accrediting agency
- Current, full, active, and unrestricted registration as a graduate professional nurse in a State, Territory or Commonwealth (i.e., Puerto Rico) of the United States, or the District of Columbia.
In addition to the above basic requirements, nursing positions are graded based on the needs of the position. There are currently 3 grades with subsets. Each grade and subset has specific education and experience requirements. The Department of Veterans Affairs lists the grades as,
- Nurse I Level I - An Associate Degree (ADN) or Diploma in Nursing, with no additional nursing practice/experience required.
- Nurse I Level II - An ADN or Diploma in Nursing and approximately 1 year of nursing practice/experience; OR an ADN or Diploma in Nursing and a bachelor’s degree in a related field with no additional nursing practice/experience; OR a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) with no additional nursing practice/experience.
- Nurse I Level III - An ADN or Diploma in Nursing and approximately 2-3 years of nursing practice/experience; OR an ADN or Diploma in Nursing and a Bachelor’s degree in a related field and approximately 1-2 years of nursing practice/experience; OR a BSN with approximately 1-2 years of nursing practice/experience; OR a Master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or related field with a BSN and no additional nursing practice/experience.
- Nurse II - A BSN with approximately 2-3 years of nursing practice/experience; OR ADN or Diploma in Nursing and a Bachelor’s degree in a related field and approximately 2-3 years of nursing practice/experience; OR a Master’s degree in nursing or related field with a BSN and approximately 1-2 years of nursing practice/experience; OR a Doctoral degree in nursing or meets basic requirements for appointment and has doctoral degree in a related field with no additional nursing practice/experience required.
- Nurse III - Master’s degree in nursing or related field with BSN and approximately 2-3 years of nursing practice/experience; OR a Doctoral degree in nursing or related field and approximately 2-3 years of nursing practice/experience.
Again, the VA job website is very specific in their requirements and eligibility for a position. There is also clear information regarding the items that need to be submitted in the application for consideration. Applications can be submitted via the VA job site.
Examples of information needed for application include the following,
- Cover Letter
- VA Form 10-2850a
The exact documents required will be listed in the job listing. Government-specific forms can be found on the application portal. Applications and forms can also be found in the HR department of each healthcare location.
Salary & Benefits
Salary at VA hospitals is contingent on the grade of the job and the specific position and location. According to Indeed.com, the average pay for a nurse at a VA hospital in 2017 was $78,402 which is approximately 12% above the national average. The Payscale.com average range was $53,000 to $95,000. The range is very wide. Current job postings for nurses indicate the pay is in the $50-$60K range.
Benefits are consistent regardless of which VA healthcare location the nurse is employed. These nurses are federal employees and have access to federal benefits. Nurses are eligible for the following benefits,
- Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHB)
- Federal Employee Dental Vision Insurance Plan (FEDVIP)
- Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI)
- Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP)
- Federal Flexible Spending Account Program (FSAFEDS)
- Thrift Savings Plan (similar to a 401(k) Plan)
- Paid Time Off
- Federal Retirement Plan
- Flexible Retirement Plan
- Disability Retirement
- Voluntary Leave Transfer Program
- Military Leave (for active reservists and National Guard members)
- Federal holiday pay
- Sick leave
These benefits are specific to civil government employees. Those that are military have similar benefits but slightly different. Individuals who are active, retired, or reservists should inquire with HR department regarding specific benefits.
Working at a VA hospital can be rewarding and is a great way to serve your country. Nurses find high satisfaction in their jobs and retention is higher than most other healthcare facilities. While it may take longer to finally start a position at a VA hospital - serving those that served our country is worth the wait.
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