The Department of Veterans Affairs helps veterans and their families with financial assistance, medical treatment, career and transition advice. The VA needs help with volunteers to keep many essential services running at current levels. That was one of the main reasons behind the creation of the VA Voluntary Service close to the end of World War Two.
There will always be a certain number of community minded people willing to volunteer their time to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Yet, half of the effort is matching a volunteer with an opportunity by reaching out to the people willing to put in the work.
Where does a volunteer go to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs? What does the process require?
A Brief History of the VA Voluntary Service
The Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service begin serving veterans in 1946 to help those receiving care in VA medical facilities. The VA official site says that since the operation began, it has become one of the largest centralized volunteer programs run by the federal government.
In 1947, a national advisory committee was formed for the VA Voluntary Service. The committee earned a federal charter in 1975. According to the VA official site, this committee “advises the Under Secretary for Health on matters pertaining to the participation of volunteers in VA medical facilities, assists in recruitment and orientation of volunteers, and keeps the officers and members of participating organizations informed of volunteer needs and accomplishments.”
VA Voluntary service programs have been supported by more than seven thousand organizations in the United States with more than seven hundred million hours of volunteer service since the program’s inception.
75,000 volunteers give more than 11,000,000 hours in service each year.
Volunteering At the Department of Veterans Affairs: An Overview
There are several different types of volunteer opportunities with the Department of Veterans Affairs. These include “skilled” volunteerism for doctors and medical professionals, corporate volunteer opportunities, a student volunteer program, and an annual National Salute to Veteran Patients Program.
Requirements for each of these and other VA programs will vary. The opportunities that require medical skills won’t have the same rules as the National Salute to Veteran Patients.
The VA accepts volunteers for something known as the Beneficiary Travel program. A current drivers’ license and liability insurance may be required for some opportunities. A student volunteer may simply be required to fill out the paperwork and show up for training.
What You Should Know About Volunteering At the VA
There are many reasons to volunteer or support a charity. Some use volunteerism as a way to improve a resume. It can also be a networking opportunity for the volunteer to land a paying job at the agency they donate time.
The Department of Veterans Affairs cautions potential volunteers that the VA hiring system is the same for any other federal government job.
While being a volunteer does look great on a resume, the work you do for the VA will not provide an alternative route to VA work outside the federal hiring process. There is no preference for volunteers and no “hire from within” opportunities for volunteers.
Those who volunteer should know that the VA encourages “family volunteerism.” The representative who contacts you after you fill out the initial forms can describe opportunities in this area that may be currently available.
Those who volunteer in VA medical facilities may wonder if a service animal, comfort animal, or family pet may accompany them during their volunteer hours.
The VA official site advises potential volunteers, “pets who visit patients in a medical setting are required to be certified by an official pet therapy certification program. Your pet may be very docile and loving, but a strange surrounding such as a hospital with all the activity and unique smells could cause it to behave erratically.”
Those who have further questions or needs in this area should discuss the issue with the VA volunteer representative who gets in touch following the initial application.
VA Volunteers May Be Subject to A Background Check
Background checks for paid federal jobs are routine. Those who volunteer for the Department of VA should expect to get some form of security check. The process could merely involve fingerprinting and/or filling out a security or background check type questionnaire.
The type of opportunity will determine the extent of the background check requirement.
Volunteer programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs
VA volunteer opportunities include, but are not limited to the following:
- Corporate volunteer programs initiated by private companies in partnership with the VA
- The VA Student Volunteer Program
- National Salute To Veteran Patients
- Physician Ambassador
- Volunteer Transportation Network
Corporate Volunteer Programs at The Department of Veterans Affairs
Corporate volunteerism involves a private company partnering with an agency like the VA to do some kind of “give back” community service or other philanthropic donation of time. Such programs are created by the company with guidance from the VA Voluntary Service Staff. They offer to help companies in the following ways according to the VA official site:
- Creating VA volunteer programs for private companies;
- Structuring volunteer opportunities for both individuals and teams;
- Finding creative ways to use employee skills;
- Helping employees and teams learn new skills.
Such programs are created as a partnership between the company and the VA. You can begin the process by contacting the nearest VA Voluntary Service Office.
The VA Student Volunteer Program
Student volunteers have many options for those interested in volunteering at VA medical facilities. These volunteer slots offer the student valuable training and job experience that can be used for job and college applications.
In addition to the experience, those who take part in this VA program may be eligible to apply for The James H. Parke Memorial Youth Scholarship Award.
There are a variety of medical specialties a volunteer may be able to experience. This includes audiology, speech pathology, nursing, social work, information technology, medical illustration, and much more.
The VA official site advises potential student volunteers to get in touch with the nearest Department of Veterans Affairs facility. Let them know you are interested in working with the VA Voluntary Service as a student volunteer.
The staff at the facility will provide application materials, instructions, a list of current needs and more. Locate the VA facility nearest you. Students can also go to the Volunteer Now page and submit the form online. Someone from a local VA facility will soon be in touch.
National Salute to Veteran Patients
Each year on February 14th, the Department of Veterans Affairs salutes the nearly 100,000 veterans cared for on a daily basis at VA facilities.
During the National Salute to Veteran Patients, the VA has an open house. Celebrities, media, sports stars, military members, and schools are invited to take part in on-site events at VA medical facilities. These events include VA hospital ward visits, photo opportunities, school essay contests, and recognition programs.
Volunteers are needed each year for these events. The VA actively solicits help in spreading the word about the salute, its’ events, and the people it recognizes. The VA official site directs those interested in volunteering for these activities to contact the nearest local VA Medical Center and discuss opportunities and needs there. Locate the closest VA medical facility to you.
The Volunteer Transportation Network
Changes in funding for certain VA programs encouraged the Department of Veterans Affairs to look to volunteers to help transport veterans in need of VA services.
The Volunteer Transportation Network (VTN) is a volunteer program run by VA that offers “volunteer participation in providing transportation to veterans using a volunteer’s privately-owned conveyance or a government-owned vehicle, including donated vehicles, county vehicles, DAV Department (State) or Chapter (local) vehicles, public transportation and contracted transportation.”
To learn more about volunteering as a part of VTN, complete and submit the form on the Volunteer Now page. Someone will contact you about opportunities with VTN in your area.
The Physician Ambassador Program
This VA volunteer program requires skilled and credentialed volunteers who work in the healthcare field. The VA Physician Ambassador Program needs help in the following areas including but not limited to:
- Emergency Medicine
- Primary Care
- Mental Health
- Cardiac Care
The VA intent for this program includes a need to “recruit and place fully licensed physicians and clinicians in a health care team at a VA medical facility to serve Veteran patients in various clinical areas.”
The VA official site describes this volunteer opportunity as a “without compensation program that provides civilian physicians and clinicians an opportunity to give back to the Veteran community by serving in a volunteer role to deliver health care services to Veterans”.
This program is used nationwide and there may be a higher demand for volunteer services in some areas. Contact the Voluntary Service office at the VA medical facility nearest you to volunteer.
The VA official site page for this program emphasizes the “fully licensed” aspect of the professional volunteers they seek. Those who are still in medical school or are still pursuing the appropriate credentials should contact the VA to volunteer in other programs unless credentialing is imminent.
Ask a VA representative what may be necessary in such cases to apply for the Physician Ambassador program.
Signing Up to Volunteer at The Department of Veterans Affairs
Volunteering with the VA means getting put in touch with a local Department of Veterans Affairs facility and learning of the opportunities in the local area.
The initial process is centralized. You can fill out the online form at the VA official site Volunteer Now page by selecting your region or the specific facility prefer. Once the form is completed, your contact information is forwarded to the appropriate office to coordinate.
Once your information is received by a local or regional VA office, you will be contacted to discuss volunteer opportunities near you.
Read the VA Form Carefully
The first part of the form at the Volunteer Now page is specifically related to donating to the VA. You will need to move past the donations portion of the form to the volunteer portion and fill out those fields.
Being Contacted By the VA After Applying for A Volunteer Opportunity
The online form at the VA Volunteer Now page gives you the choice of being contacted by phone or email. If you choose to be contacted by email, make sure your spam filters are not intercepting VA communications. If you select the phone contact option, you will need to be prepared to answer an incoming call from a number you don’t recognize from the VA office in need of volunteer services.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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