VA Mental Health Researchers Continue to Break New Ground

VA Mental Health Researchers Continue to Break New Ground

The VA is honoring the achievements of its mental health professionals during Mental Health Awareness Month. Veterans’ mental health has long been a focus at VA — as far back as 1941, when we opened our first lab dedicated to researching neuropsychiatric disorders.

We know treating the minds of our nation’s heroes is just as important as treating their bodies, so today we continue our tradition of research and focus on Veteran mental health.

“This Mental Health Month, we celebrate VA professionals who have made groundbreaking discoveries that benefit the mental health of the nation’s Veterans every day,” said Darren Sherrard, associate director of recruitment marketing at VA. “We are always looking for qualified professionals to join our team who want to help improve the lives of Veterans through innovative mental health care.”

Groundbreaking research

In the past few decades, VA researchers have made important breakthroughs in the mental health field, such as locating a gene associated with schizophrenia and identifying gray matter loss common in several psychiatric disorders.

Today, they are always on the lookout for new approaches to treat and prevent mental health disorders. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) research is a high priority and no more so than at our National Center for PTSD. As the world’s leading research and educational center of excellence on PTSD and traumatic stress, it synthesizes VA and external scientific research to promote better understanding, diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. Other current research focuses at VA include mood disorders, the co-occurrence of mental health issues and physical disorders, and more.

We also operate more than 20 Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Centers (MIRECCs) and other centers of excellence and innovation throughout the country. Here, we research the causes and treatments of mental disorders and put this knowledge into practice in VA.

Beyond research, we also develop and evaluate collaborative primary care models and have greatly expanded access to mental health services through telehealth.

Discover a rewarding career

If you’d like to work on the forefront of mental health research and practice, consider a career at VA.

We’ve demonstrated our commitment to mental health by hiring nearly 4,000 mental health practitioners since 2017.

It’s more than just a job — it’s a deeply rewarding mission to give back to those who have served. We take a holistic approach to care, so you’ll be a vital part of our patient care team.

We offer competitive compensation for mental health professionals, generous leave policy and free liability coverage. Other perks of a VA career include:

  • Higher education support
  • Flexible work schedules and shifts.
  • Diversity and inclusion policies and programs.
  • Low patient-provider ratios.
  • Career training and enhancement opportunities.
  • Dining options and a tax-free retail store.
  • A smoke/drug-free workplace.

Work at VA

By growing our team of practitioners and researchers, we can provide more Veterans with access to lifesaving, high-quality care and continue our success in mental health research. Consider choosing VA for your mental health career.

  • DISCOVER what a career in mental health looks like at VA.
  • EXPLORE VA careers at
  • LEARN more about the benefits of a VA career.
VA Celebrates Nurses During National Nurses Week 2020

VA Celebrates Nurses During National Nurses Week 2020

This National Nurses Week, we salute the over 100,000 VA nurses who work tirelessly every day to serve our nation’s Veterans — and have continued to demonstrate their commitment and dedication throughout this historic global situation.

“VA nurses are fiercely dedicated to our mission of providing excellent care to America’s heroes, which is especially vital during this time,” said Shawanda Poree, program manager of nurse recruitment and resources at VA. “We couldn’t care for the 9 million Veterans enrolled in VA care without them.”

At VA facilities from coast to coast, our nurses consistently advocate for Veterans and ensure they receive the best care.

This year, in honor of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday, National Nurses Week is also part of the World Health Organization’s “Year of the Nurse and Midwife,” recognizing the hard work of the world’s nurses.

“No better feeling”

“There’s no better feeling than caring for the Veteran. You get to know them and they become like your family,” said Sarah Lueger, a nurse manager who serves Veterans at the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System. “It’s a way for me to give back to them for what they’ve done for us.”

At 100,000-strong, the VA nursing corps is the largest in the nation. Together, they provide continuous, compassionate care and positively impact the lives of Veterans — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“The people who work at VA really have a strong passion for what they do, and that is infectious to those around us,” said Karalie Gantz, an inpatient acute psychiatry nurse manager at Topeka VA.

VA nurses practice in a variety of care-delivery settings, including acute, ambulatory, mental health care, telecare and outpatient clinics.

“Within our health care system, there are [so many] different departments and different opportunities that, once you’re here, you can find [your] niche. There really is a place for everyone at VA,” Gantz said.

Grow, lead and innovate

Nurses are a critical part of Veteran treatment teams. They sit on leadership boards and collaborate across disciplines to improve patient outcomes. At all of our 1,250 sites, nurses have a voice at the table with physicians and leadership and help improve patient care.

“Working at VA is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve grown into the nurse that I am now, the leader that I am now,” Lueger said.

The VA encourages nurses to take advantage of opportunities to accelerate their training. Three available opportunities include:

  • The VA Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR) Program gives outstanding registered nursing students who have completed their junior year in an accredited clinical program the opportunity to develop their skills at a VA-approved health care facility. More than 50% of VALOR participants are hired as new registered nurses in VA and usually start above the entry-level salary rate established for new graduates.
  • 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), part- or full-time VA registered nurses employed for at least one year can receive up to $40,117 toward the pursuit of an associate, bachelor’s or advanced nursing degree, including tuition, registration fees and books.

A wealth of resources, including mentoring and preceptor programs, also encourage promotion of staff nurses to executive-level positions.

VA nurses also have the chance to innovate and research. Nurses are helping VA become a leader in telehealth and embracing scientific exploration to come up with new ways to serve Veterans.

Work at the VA Today

During Nurses Week 2020 and all year long, we celebrate and thank the VA nurses who are pursuing careers with purpose and making a difference in Veterans’ lives.

VA Asking Retired Federal Health Care Providers to Come Back to Work

VA Asking Retired Federal Health Care Providers to Come Back to Work

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is directly contacting retired VA and Federal clinicians to join them in the ongoing effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

VA needs experienced patient-care providers during the crisis to help those already providing the best care to our Veterans at VA medical centers, outpatient clinics and community living centers.  

The department is reaching out to retired VA and Federal health care providers through social media, massive postcard mailings, email and word of mouth. VA staff are currently working the phones to ask if former colleagues are interested in coming back for a 120-day assignment, renewable up to one year.

“The nation’s health care system is dealing with an unprecedented crisis,” said Dr. Richard Stone, Executive In Charge, Veterans Health Administration. “Beyond VHA’s primary mission of providing care for our Veterans, we have a fourth mission, which is to be the safety net for our Nation’s health care system. We need everyone to join us in this fight, and recently retired health care professionals can come in and make an immediate impact.”

Stepping Up

After retiring in 2014, former VHA Chief Nursing Officer and Senior Nurse Executive Catherine Rick has answered the call and is awaiting her assignment from VA. “I could work virtually from home or I could travel. I’m healthy and I’m tech-savvy,” said Rick, who lives in the Phoenix area.

Rick said her high regard for VA staff and her experience in hurricane emergency response made her want to step up during the current health crisis. “In my 22 years of experience with VA, I can say I have the highest regard for everything VA does — and can do. There is an extremely talented staff across the VA system, and the work the emergency relief staff does made me think about what they’re going through. I knew their wheels must be spinning in overtime.”

VA is especially looking for nurses and other health care providers, including physicians, pharmacists, laboratory technicians and respiratory therapists, with interest and expertise in:

  • Direct patient care/support (at a VA medical center and/or outpatient clinic)
  • Tele/virtual care
  • Travel Nurse Corps

On March 19, 2020. the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), approved a VA request to waive a section of Federal law to make it easier for the department to rehire retired VA health care providers. As re-employed annuitants, employees will receive their Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) annuities, as well as a paycheck as a Federal employee, without any offset to their retirement income. OPM instituted the waiver through March 31, 2021.

Expanding VA’s workforce helps the department better fulfill its mission of caring for our Nation’s heroes and supporting the Federal government in our public health mission during a pandemic.

Call to Action

VA needs you! If you would like to join your fellow health care providers in caring for our Veterans and support the national effort to combat the coronavirus, please do the following:

  • Register online if you are a retired nurse or health care provider interested in joining VA as a re-employed annuitant. Or email your availability and resume to  
  • Visit if you are a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant or certified registered nurse anesthetist interested in joining the Travel Nurse Corps, providing telehealth, or being assigned to a VA Medical Center.
  • Call retired nurses and other health care providers and share information about VA’s recruitment needs and efforts, including the:

You can also learn more about VA’s response to the coronavirus by visiting VA’s public health site.

VA Asking Retired Federal Health Care Providers to Come Back to Work

VA to Retired Medical Personnel: Help Us Fight COVID-19

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approved a request from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on March 19 to waive a section of federal law that governs retired VA workers.

The waiver makes it easier for the department to rehire retired VA health care workers and will help VA health care facilities bolster their medical staffs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

VA is implementing the authority and could begin hiring actions as soon as this week.

As a result, VA is inviting interested retired physicians, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, respiratory therapists and other medical professionals to register online.

VA is especially looking for health care providers with interest and expertise in:

  • Tele/virtual care
  • Travel Nurse Corps
  • Direct patient care/support (at a VA medical center and/or outpatient clinic)

As a re-employed annuitant, you receive your Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) annuities, as well as a paycheck as a federal employee. The waiver is in effect until March 31, 2021, according to OPM.

Choose VA

Innovate: A Collaboration of Nursing Excellence at the Minneapolis VA Health Care Center

Innovate: A Collaboration of Nursing Excellence at the Minneapolis VA Health Care Center

Every day in VA hospitals nationwide, nurses dedicate themselves to help patients reclaim their lives. What they do is more than a career, it’s a calling to restore hope and bring healing to Veterans and their families. Nurses’ strength, skill and compassion lie at the core of VA’s high-quality standard of care. 

In January 2017, the Minneapolis VA Health Care Center opened a hybrid operating room suite with both single plane and biplane radiologic equipment. Our main operating room is a busy 18 room operating room suite that supports complex patient care needs of 13 surgical subspecialties. We are a complex 1A facility. The decision to create a separate hybrid operating room came from a team of professional nurses that specialize in hybrid operating room technology and procedures was adopted and has proven to be highly successful.

Hybrid operating rooms combine minimally invasive approaches to complex patient care needs with the ability to convert to traditional open type surgical interventions. Hybrid operating rooms also support the complex blending of cardiology and cardiac surgery interventions, more specifically the TAVR (trans catheter aortic valve) procedure. The hybrid operating room also blend the expertise of invasive radiologists and vascular surgeons to provide both diagnostic and interventional treatment for complex vascular disease. The hybrid operating room certainly is the future for all hospitals as it allows enormous flexibility in meeting the patient’s procedural needs. The hybrid operating room environment requires a special type of nurse that possesses extreme flexibility, complex thinking skills, keen technical and patient assessment skills. We have achieved this success in Minneapolis in creating a new breed of nursing that possess these qualities.

In development of the hybrid operating room philosophy, we have successfully collaborated with our team members in the cardiac cath lab, cardiology, and invasive radiology suites. We have collaborated in the development of our nursing skills sets, we have combined and share inventory, collaborated in competency validation and nursing education. We work together breaking down the walls of departmental structure to provide multi-disciplinary care for our Veterans!

Story submitted by: Julie A. Wagner, RN, CNOR

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

Q&A with Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Dr. Mary Lilly

Q&A with Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Dr. Mary Lilly

Recently, we connected with Dr. Mary Lilly to talk about the benefits of being a Primary Care Mental Health Integration (PCMHI) Nurse Practitioner at VA. Her insights will give you a better idea of what it’s like to be on VA’s collaborative, multidisciplinary team, and help you decide if a career with VA is right for you.

Can you tell us about PCMHI at VA?

Through this model, primary care providers work directly with the mental health team to address patient needs that require specialty expertise. This can be anything from psychiatric evaluations and diagnoses to medication management and more. By doing so, we streamline the service delivery process and ensure more efficient and effective treatment.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My workdays focus on the mental health questions and concerns of Veterans, who are referred to me by their primary care physicians and other NPs. I also consult with these professionals on medications they may wish to prescribe, and I provide follow-up services to patients as needed.

As a VA NP, you have full and independent practice authority. How does this impact your career?

Autonomy helps me grow every day, which is essential to my overall job satisfaction. Fulfillment like this is part of what drives employee retention and service quality throughout our organization.

Why choose VA over another employer?

One of the many reasons is the benefits—they’re outstanding. They give me the scheduling flexibility, PTO and financial support I need to make the most of my personal life, which includes spending time with my family. And if we ever need or want to move to a different state, I have the freedom to do so, since our health system has locations throughout the country. This is my fourth year with VA, I spent the first two years at El Paso, one year at Loma Linda and recently came back to the El Paso facility. Transferring is straightforward because only one state clinical license is required to work at any VA facility nationwide. You won’t find that kind of mobility anywhere else.

What’s the best part of working at VA?

Serving those who’ve served America. Veterans are the most interesting and rewarding patients to care for. Their service and stories are truly inspirational, and I am forever grateful for both them and the opportunity to impact their lives.

What are you most excited for in 2018?

We have a new Primary Care Chief, Dr. Barrett Hayes, who will work to help providers reach their full potential. I’m confident that his team’s leadership will be transformational and drive the advancement of Veteran care at my facility and beyond.

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

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