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Working at the Department of Veterans Affairs
by Nancy J. Mellem Minority Nurse Writer
The Department of] Veterans Affair's most important asset is a highly motivated and diverse workforce of more than 200,000 people committed to our mission of service to veterans. Our employees are the foundation of the department and the key to our success. We offer a wide array of career opportunities to prospective applicants in many clinical, technical and administrative career fields at locations throughout the country. Our Web site can tell you more about these job opportunities. We hope that you will consider a career with Veterans Affairs and become a part of our proud tradition of providing the highest quality of service to those men and women who have served our great Nation. -Anthony J. Principi Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Just the Facts
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was established on March 15, 1989, succeeding the Veterans Administration, which was established in 1930. In 1989, President Reagan signed legislation to elevate Veterans Affairs to the 14th Department in the President's Cabinet.
The department has 224,724 employees 202,709 of which are employed by the Veterans Health Administration. It is the second largest of the 15 cabinets and is responsible for providing federal benefits to veterans and their dependents. This is a staggering responsibility when you consider the numbers: about a quarter of the nation's population-approximately 70 million people-are eligible for VA benefits and services, and there are 26 million living veterans at this time.
The VA estimates it will spend $59.6 billion in 2003 to provide services and $25.9 billion of that will be spent in the area of health care. The VA's health care system includes 163 hospitals, 850 ambulatory care and community-based outpatient clinics, 137 nursing homes, 43 domiciliaries and 73 comprehensive home-care programs. More than 4.5 million people received care in VA health care facilities in 2002. This was an unprecedented increase of 9.5% over the number of patients treated in 2001.
The VA will also invest nearly an additional $1.4 billion in research this year. These funds are made possible by the VA's Medical Account, National Institutes of Health, pharmaceutical companies and other foundations.
The VA is at the forefront of medical advancements and research. It has become a world leader in research on aging, women's health, AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder. VA researchers have had key roles in developing the cardiac pacemaker, the CT scan and have made improvements in artificial limbs. The researchers have received many prestigious awards including the Nobel Prize for their work.
The biggest reward for researchers in the VA, however, is the ability to see the immediate benefits of their research. Many of the researchers are also practicing physicians, and this dual role allows them to put their research to immediate use.
Considering the work the VA does every year, it is no surprise that they require a large network of "highly motivated" individuals. Employment opportunities abound at the VHA and VA, and they value their employees, a fact that is reflected in employee's generous benefit packages.
Starting salaries at the VA are dependent on education, training, years of experience, the duties of the position and, in some cases, guidelines from professional boards. The VA's General Schedule Salary Table is available at www.va.gov.
As you can imagine, employees of the VA choose from a wide selection of health care plans based on their individual needs. Fee-for-service plans, health maintenance organizations and point of service plans are just a few of the options. The VA pays approximately 75% of the health benefit premium. Many plans offer dental coverage as well, and coverage may continue into retirement. Pre-tax options can also result in more take-home pay.
Training and Continuing Education
The VA manages the largest education and health professions training program in the U.S. They are affiliated with 107 medical schools, 55 dental schools and more than 1,200 other schools across the country.
VA employees can also benefit from VA Learning Online a program offering a number of general education and college-level courses on the Internet. The VA offers tuition reimbursement to individuals who are studying in fields deemed to have shortages.
The Employee Incentive Scholarship Program is available to employees continuing their education in areas where recruitment and retention is difficult.
Quality of Life Benefits
A childcare subsidy is available to full- and part-time VA employees. This subsidy is paid on a sliding scale based on income. Alternate work schedules are also available in some circumstances, and commuting assistance is offered to VA employees based on mass transit commuting costs.
Additional benefits, similar to those found in the private sector, include retirement programs, life insurance and paid days off. Some of these benefits are more generous than those found in the private sector, however, and are detailed on the VA's Web site at www.va.gov under employment opportunities.
Extra benefits not commonly found in the private sector include liability protection and job portability. Descriptions of these benefits are also available on the VA's Web site.
Many Routes to the VA
If you would like to pursue a career with the VA, there are many avenues to get you there. On the Internet, go to www.va.gov/jobs/search/healthcare.htm to find links to the VHA Placement Service, VA Jobs at USAJOBS and VHA Executive Recruitment. You can also go to www.vacareers.com to do a job search by state, facility or occupation.
If you have additional questions, call the Health Care Development and Retention Office (HCSDRO) at 504-589-5267.