Special Roles in Nursing: What Does a VA Nurse Do?

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A VA nurse works with veteran patient.

There are approximately 22 million military veterans living in the United States, and nurses employed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are the backbone of the VA health care system. In addition to serving U.S. military veterans by providing high-quality, compassionate care, they play a significant role in their patients’ recovery.

VA Nursing at a Glance

The VA operates the nation’s largest health care system, which encompasses more than 1,200 hospitals, clinics, readjustment counseling centers, and other types of facilities. Although VA nurses are licensed in the same way other nurses are, their form of health care delivery may differ from civilian care delivery.

For example, the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing reports that veterans seeking health care services may have been exposed to chemical and biological warfare agents, such as Agent Orange. The organization further reports that veterans who have suffered combat injuries , such as shrapnel wounds, are more prone to have mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) estimates that approximately 30% of military veterans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health condition that requires treatment, adding that many are experiencing PTSD and major depression. The NCBH also estimates that less than half of returning veterans in need of care have received mental health treatment and that approximately 22 veterans commit suicide each day. Further, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that approximately 1 in 5 U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. As such, the need for qualified mental health professionals within the VA is substantial.

Nurses who are interested in helping this population may find that completing an advanced degree, such as an online Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in Psychiatric Mental Health (PMHNP) , can move them toward that goal. Graduates of PMHNP programs often have the skills and expertise needed to work as an advanced care VA nurse.

Key Skills for VA Nursing Job

There are a number of competencies considered vital for VA nursing roles. For example, VA nurses need enhanced leadership, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills, as well as skills that may be unique to working with veteran patients, such as advanced knowledge of combat injuries and a sensitivity to discussion topics that may trigger PTSD symptoms.

Leadership: Professionals who want to pursue VA nurse jobs must have strong leadership skills. They must be confident and honest and apply a positive approach to patient care, because this helps build higher levels of patient trust. Patients who trust their doctors and nurses are more likely to share information about their health, such as whether they’re experiencing anxiety or depression, which can lead to better outcomes.

Critical Thinking: VA nurses use critical thinking to interpret, analyze, and evaluate patient data. This skill is imperative in helping nurses to spot subtle symptoms, such as weight loss or insomnia, which may indicate a patient is developing a mental health or substance abuse problem. RNs who are highly proficient critical thinkers can identify and analyze important patient information to help save lives.

Interpersonal Skills: VA nurses are often the first health care professional a patient interacts with when seeking care. In addition to having advanced medical knowledge, VA nurses must have strong interpersonal skills so they can receive and relay information. Nurses who possess interpersonal skills often find they have better relationships with patients and colleagues.

Advanced Knowledge of Combat Injuries: Veterans m ay have experienced one or more combat-related injuries, such as gunshot wounds or the loss of a limb, and the American Sociological Association reports that combat exposure increases veterans’ likelihood of experiencing poor health and disability later in life. VA nurses who possess advanced knowledge of combat injuries, and their possible short-term and long-term effects, provide higher levels of patient care.

Emotional Intelligence: A nurse’s emotional intelligence has a direct impact on the level of care he or she delivers. For example, nurses who work at the VA must understand how their body language and tone of voice, as well as common noises, might impact a patient who suffers from PTSD.

The Role of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

More than ever, there is a need for nurses qualified to deliver specialized, sensitive care to veterans of the armed forces. Nurses who want to advance in their careers and have an interest in treating VA patients with mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, are likely to find that completing an advanced degree program, such as the online Master of Science in Nursing from Regis College, can help them toward that goal.

Learn More About VA Nurse Career Paths

Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing offers a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) concentration that focuses on contemporary psychotherapy models and psychopharmacology. Upon completion of the program, students will have developed the fundamental skills they will need to excel in a career devoted to serving those who have served their country.

However, nurses who have an interest in working at the VA who do not have experience as a PMHNP may be interested to learn that there is a significant need for women’s health nurse practitioners. According to its website, women are the fastest growing group within the veteran population. As such, aspiring NPs who choose to specialize in women’s health are likely to find VA job opportunities that align with their professional goals.

Your path toward becoming a VA nurse starts today. Discover how the online Master of Science in Nursing at Regis College can help you improve your chances of attaining a VA nurse job.

Recommended Reading
What Kind of Nurse Should I Be? Examining Advanced Practice Nursing Paths
Can Nurse Practitioners Prescribe Medication?
Degrees Defined: What Does MSN Mean?


American Sociological Association, “Scars: The Long-Term Effects of Combat Exposure on Health” FederalPay.org, Veterans Health Administration Salaries of 2017
Houston Chronicle, Nurse Practitioner Salary at a VA Hospital LinkedIn, “Why Trust Is Important in Nursing” National Council for Behavioral Health, Veterans National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Illness
The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, Legislative: Providing Veteran-Specific Healthcare
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Navigating the Hiring Process
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Nursing at VA
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM), Title 38 Pay Schedule
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 Nurses Love Working for the Veterans Health Administration
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Nursing Facts
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Women Veterans Health Care