Every day, the nurses of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provide exceptional service to Veterans. Today marks the start of National Nurses Week 2019, when VA joins our healthcare partners in celebrating the 100,000-strong VA nursing corps for tirelessly serving those who have served and for choosing a career based on giving back.
“I celebrate VA nurses because they are committed and dedicated,” said Kelly Irving, Associate Director for Patient Care Services at Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston. “They show up every day willing to do it all over again.”
In fact, ask almost any VA nurse or nurse leader how they feel about their job and expect to be quickly corrected: It’s not just a job, it’s a mission. VA nurses take that to heart, advocating for Veterans and making sure they get the care they need, when they need it.
Beyond their fierce dedication to the mission, VA nurses also offer innovative, caring solutions that resolve the complex health challenges faced by Veterans.
“The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I’m serving our nation’s heroes,” said Beth Taylor, DHA RN, NEA-BC and Acting Chief Nursing Officer for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). “There’s no better mission than the one that we have.”
As the nation’s largest nursing corps, VA nurses touch Veterans lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she added.
“We’re one of the professions that is present during administrative hours and throughout all the nonadministrative hours,” Taylor said. “That’s when the majority of healthcare for our inpatients and our long-term care residents is provided.”
VA nurses provide support for Veterans at risk of homelessness, Veterans in crisis and Veterans who just need someone to talk to, often educating themselves to be better caregivers. They learn the history of war to assist a Veteran diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder or conduct research to improve nursing practices that impact the 9 million Veterans enrolled in VA care.
All of this work adds up to better care for Veterans. “When you look at the quality outcomes for our health system, VA nurses make such a strong contribution to improving the health of our Veterans,” Taylor said.
Providing opportunities to grow and lead
VA also offers nurses almost limitless opportunities to lead and grow. Nurses at VA are part of a Veteran’s treatment team, serve on leadership boards and contribute to interdisciplinary collaborations to improve patient outcomes. At all of VA’s 1,250 sites of care, nurses have a voice at the table, often weighing in with physicians and leadership to improve nursing care at their VA facility.
VA empowers nurses by encouraging them to accelerate their healthcare career training. “In my experience,” Taylor said, “VA is the richest employer in terms of the scholarship opportunities that we offer nurses.”
She cited three scholarship opportunities available to nurses both before and after they embark on a career path at VA:
- Under the VA Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR), students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in nursing who agree to serve in full-time VA careers can apply for financial assistance equal to up to 800 hours of salary dollars.
- Through the Education Debt Reduction Program, nurses with qualifying student loans receive reimbursements of up to $120,000 over a five-year period. Payments cover tuition and other reasonable expenses, including fees, books, supplies, equipment, materials and laboratory costs.
- Under the National Nursing Education Initiative (NNEI), VA registered nurses employed for at least one year can receive up to $40,117 toward the cost of higher education. “Through the NNEI,” Irving noted, “if you decide to go to school, your job will be safe here. We will give you a job.”
Leading the way in healthcare innovation
VA nurses are able to innovate and research as well. VA nurses were the first to implement an electronic record, Bar-Code Medicine Administration (BCMA), in 2000. They have also helped VA become the leader in telehealth, with more than 702,000 patients accessing help through one of three telehealth modalities in 2016.
VA nurses have the opportunity to practice in a variety of care-delivery settings, including acute, ambulatory, mental healthcare, telecare and outpatient clinics.
They can also embrace scientific exploration to come up with new ways to serve Veterans. “You can pursue becoming a nurse researcher,” said Taylor. “We have many nurses who work in research and contribute to knowledge, best practices and clinical leadership practices.”
Offering career-changing mentorship and growth
VA offers a wealth of formal and informal mentoring and preceptor programs and resources, which encourage the promotion of staff nurses to executive-level positions.
“You can start off here as a VALOR nurse and become a Chief Nurse all in the same course of your career,” Irving said, pointing to her trajectory at VA as evidence. “VA saw more in me and invested in me,” Irving said. “I took every opportunity to be challenged to learn more.”
Choose VA today
During Nurses Week 2019 and all year long, watch this space as we celebrate and thank the VA nurses who are pursuing careers with purpose and making a difference in Veterans’ lives.