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What Are the Benefits of Working for the VA as a Nurse?

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated November 2, 2023
Edited by
    There are many benefits to working for the VA as a nurse. Explore how becoming a VA nurse can impact your career advancement and improve your work-life balance.
    Nurses in VA hospital talking to patientCredit: Getty Images/Tetra images RF
    • The VA offers nurses a variety of career advancement opportunities and benefits to support work-life balance.
    • The VA is affiliated with over 1,800 educational institutions, and nurses have access to over 7,000 training programs to advance their careers.
    • VA nurses can practice in a variety of settings, including acute care, intensive care, rehabilitation, outpatient clinics, long-term care, mental health, and telehealth.

    Over 93,000 nurses work for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, many of whom are also veterans. It is an opportunity to serve the country by caring for people who have served in the Armed Forces.

    Working as a VA nurse can include benefits that support work-life balance, such as childcare and fitness centers, 26 days of annual leave, and 10 paid federal holidays. The VA is affiliated with over 1,800 educational institutions, and nurses have access to over 7,000 training programs to advance their careers. Let’s explore why you might consider working for the VA and the possible career opportunities.

    Why You Might Consider Working as a Nurse for the VA

    Many nurses enter the profession to help others. Working in the VA hospital system, you can fulfill that goal and serve your country at the same time. The VA is the nation’s largest healthcare system and can offer significant benefits to staff nurses.

    The Pros of Working as a VA Nurse

    • checkThe VA offers many opportunities for career development and advanced education. The hospitals utilize cross-training and support nurses’ practice at the top of their licensure. The system also has a career ladder for professional development and promotion.
    • checkNurses are valued and respected members of a collaborative interdisciplinary healthcare team that includes physicians, nurses, and therapists whose goal is quality patient outcomes.
    • checkVA hospitals are early adopters of new technologies, including the first to implement electronic health records and a leader in telehealth technologies. The VA uses a high-technology, immersive environment to train the trainer and coordinates national clinical simulation-based resources.
    • checkNurses have the opportunity to practice in a variety of settings, including acute care, intensive care, rehabilitation, outpatient clinics, long-term care, mental health, and telehealth.
    • checkVA nurses have multiple opportunities to participate in research as a participant or lead investigator. The results of this research impact the delivery of healthcare within the VA system and the healthcare industry.
    • checkVA nurses can live and work nearly anywhere in the U.S. The VA system has 168 medical centers where your nursing license is accepted. The system offers federal supremacy for nursing licensure, so your nursing license is valid in all 50 states.
    • checkThe VA supports innovation in clinical practice, leadership, and shared governance. The system provides opportunities for nurses to participate in national or local committees to express their ideas and concerns. They encourage proposals to improve or innovate care and support nurses’ leadership development.
    • checkIn 2004, Congress passed legislation S.2484, allowing VA nurses to choose from two work schedules. Nurses can work three 12-hour shifts and be paid for 40 hours or can work nine months each year with three months off and receive 75% of a full-time salary paid over 12 months.

    The Cons of Working as a VA Nurse

    • xUnlike in the private sector, VA nurses do not have the right to collective bargaining and striking. Federal employee unions and advocates have been fighting for years to reverse this but have been met with stiff opposition. The problems within the system aren’t related to poor care but rather funding, retention, and staffing.
    • xMany veterans may be living with a mental health condition or substance use disorder. It’s likely that no matter what unit you work on, you may need to work with individuals with mental health conditions. However, if you enjoy psychiatric nursing, this may not be a con for you.
    • xThere is a lack of transparency in reporting data about staff vacancies within the VA hospital system, which makes filling positions difficult to address.

    VA Nurse Salary

    The federal government uses a scale to determine a nurse’s base pay, which includes the general schedule (GS) payscale and the Paygrade Step. The GS payscale is adjusted for the cost of living based on your location, and the Paygrade Step depends on your seniority and job performance.

    When you know the location of the VA hospital, your GS, and your Paygrade Step, you can find your salary published by the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer.

    Factors that Influence VA Nurse Pay

    The GS payscale has 15 grades, each with 10 steps. Each job is graded depending on the difficulty level, required credentials, and job responsibilities. For example, a registered nurse would have a lower GS than a nurse practitioner.

    Within each GS, there is a cost of living adjustment based on your location. Step raises are generally granted within specified time ranges. For advancement at Steps 1-3, there is a one-year waiting period. At Steps 4-6, you wait two years for advancement, and at Steps 7-9, there is a three-year waiting period.

    If you don’t move on the GS payscale, it can take 18 years to move from Step 1 to Step 10. Nurses can be hired from GS-5 to GS-12, depending on experience and educational level.

    VA Nurse Opportunities

    Career opportunities are among the benefits of working for the VA as a nurse. Nurses can choose from clinical, advanced practice, administrative, or consultant career paths. They can also consult in infection control, informatics, research, community health, and education.

    The VA believes that leadership is a key strategy for supporting innovation and supports at least nine programs that help develop nursing leaders. When you are ready to look for a job within the VA system, check out the job openings and remember that your unencumbered and active license in any state is accepted in the VA system throughout the U.S.