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There’s a Serious Nursing Shortage at Military Healthcare Facilities. A New Federal Proposal Could Help

Matthew Arrojas
Updated December 19, 2023
Edited by
    The Military Health System is in dire need of nurses, and a bipartisan proposal aims to incentivize nurses to keep working at these facilities.
    Nurse working in military hospitalCredit: Getty Images
    • Two senators from opposite sides of the aisle proposed the Retain Educated Workers and Registered Nurses Developing (REWARD) Experience Act.
    • The bipartisan proposal aims to retain nurses in the military healthcare system.
    • A recent federal report found that 85% of military healthcare facilities are experiencing a nurse shortage.

    A bipartisan proposal aims to encourage more nurses to continue working within the military healthcare system amid a severe nurse shortage.

    The Retain Educated Workers and Registered Nurses Developing (REWARD) Experience Act would relax strict experience requirements for nurses practicing within a military healthcare facility. Lawmakers behind the bill say current restrictions inadvertently incentivize military nurses with advanced credentials to leave military facilities for the private sector.

    On December 4, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Sen. Ted Budd of North Carolina proposed the REWARD Experience Act in the U.S. Senate. Democratic Rep. Marilyn Strickland of Washington introduced a separate version of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    The proposal was driven largely by a September Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which examined 70 military installations, 85% of which reported a nursing shortage. The report added that officials at one military hospital said the private sector offered $33,000 more annually than the federal government for a similar nursing job in the same community.

    Nursing was one of the most commonly reported positions that experienced shortages, according to the report.

    “As our country faces a shortage of qualified nurses, this bipartisan proposal provides a common-sense fix that would cut through bureaucratic requirements to help the military keep dedicated healthcare professionals on the job without taking a pay cut,” Budd said in a statement.

    According to bill cosponsors, current hiring requirements make it so that a licensed practical nurse (LPN) who transitions to become a registered nurse (RN) would have to take a pay cut if they remained at a military healthcare facility. That’s due to irregularities within the federal payscale and the experience required to reach each level.

    The senators behind the bill say this requirement incentivizes nurses to transfer to the private sector.

    The REWARD Experience Act would allow hiring managers at a Department of Defense medical facility to waive the experience requirement when nurses increase their licensure level. So long as nurses achieve their new license from an accredited nursing program, hiring managers can waive the experience requirement.

    Both the National Military Family Association (NMFA) and Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) support the proposal, lawmakers noted.