“WHERE THE FEDERAL JOBS ARE”
FEDERAL AGENCY SERIES PART 2 – WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT The DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS (VA)
Secretary: Robert A. McDonald (2014 – present)
Headquarters: VA’s Central Offices are located in Washington, D.C. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and National Cemetery Administration (NCA) also have Regional offices throughout the country. In the “VA Organization Structure” section, we note major staff organizations and offices with office outside of Washington, D.C.
TIP 1: When you are searching for VA opportunities on USAJOBS, consider adding a “location” to your search. That option is listed on the left navigation bar. This is particularly helpful if you are interested in opportunities outside of Washington, D.C. You can limit your search to Regions (e.g., United States), States, or Locales.
Mission: To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.
The VA established three (3) priority goals in Fiscal Year 2014-2015:
- End Veteran Homelessness (in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development)
- Improve Veteran Access to VA Benefits and Services
- Eliminate the Disability Backlog
The Agency’s Fiscal Year 2014-2020 Strategic Plan builds on past accomplishments setting thee (3) priority goals:
- Empower Veterans to Improve Their Well-being
- Enhance and Develop Trusted Partnerships
- Manage and Improve VA Operations to Deliver Seamless and Integrated Support.
Number of Civilian Employees: Over 310,000 federal civilian employees. Over 87%, approximately 272,000, are employed by the Veterans Health Care Administration (VHA). Approximately 21,000 staff are employed by the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA); and approximately 1,600 staff are with the National Cemetery Administration (NCA).
TIP 2: The VA website has an impressive array of Career Resources. Prospective candidates may browse specific occupational families (http://mycareeratva.va.gov/careers – search) or search the VA Job Finder database rather than USAJOBS for available job openings (http://jobsearch.mycareeratva.va.gov/search.aspx?jbf574=VA*&fedemp=y&fedpub=y). In addition, the VHA maintains a user-friendly career website dedicated to recruiting healthcare employees – link to it at http://www.vacareers.va.gov/.
TIP 3: “DAY IN THE LIFE OF A VA EMPLOYEE.” Check out this VA webpage dedicated to various VA careers. It focuses on a full array of career categories. When you chose a category, you will be able to read a transcript from real VA staff member about their work. See http://www.va.gov/JOBS/types_careers.asp.
Veterans: More than 100,000 Veterans work at the Veterans Administration, including 10% with disabilities.
TIP 4: VA for Vets is a VA Veteran Employment Services Office (VESO) initiative to attract, retain and support Veteran employees at the VA and across the federal government. Veterans can contact a VA Recruiter to assist them in pursuing the right types of employment. See http://www.vacareers.va.gov/Veterans/contact-veso.asp and http://vaforvets.va.gov/docs/VESO_Fact_Sheet.pdf.
TIP 5: VA offers all Veterans comprehensive employment resources including resume help, military skills translators, education and career counseling, and a Veterans Job Bank. Find out more by clicking http://explore.va.gov/employment-services/employment-resources.
The VA Organization Structure: The VA has three (3) distinct Administrations as well as numerous Staff Organizations and Offices.
- Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The VHA is the Nation’s largest integrated health care delivery system with approximately 150 VA Medical Centers, 1,200 outpatient clinics and 300 vet centers serving approximately 7 million Veterans each year. VHA’s 4 statutory missions are: 1) to develop, maintain, and operate a national health care delivery system for eligible Veterans; 2) to administer a program of education and training for health care personnel; 3) to conduct health care research; and 4) provide contingency support for DoD and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during times of war or national emergency. The Administration is divided into 23 areas known as Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN). For example, For example, VISN-5, the Capitol Health Care Network, includes the Maryland Health Care System and six (6) VA Medical Centers in MD, WV, and Washington, D.C.
- Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). The mission of the Veterans Benefits Administration is to provide benefits and services to Veterans, their families and survivors in a responsive, timely, and compassionate manner. The VBA has 5 District Offices (Philadelphia, Nashville, St. Louis, Denver and Phoenix) and 56 regional offices in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. It also maintains numerous Intake Sites and Benefits Offices across the country. VBA processes Veterans’ benefits for: compensation, pension, education, vocational rehabilitation and employment, financial counseling, loan guaranty, and insurance. Its Career Center assists Veterans with translating their military skills into public and private sector careers.
- National Cemetery Administration (NCA) maintains 131 national cemeteries as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites. NCA’s purpose is to provide burial space for Veterans and their eligible family members. The NCA maintains 5 Regional Offices in addition to its Central Office in Washington, D.C. Note that VA cemeteries are separate from the Department of the Army’s two (2) National Cemetery’s (Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldiers’ & Airmen’s Home National Cemetery).
Staff organizations and offices (in alphabetical order):
- Advisory Committee Management Office. Provides guidance and support to the VA’s Federal advisory committees. There are currently 25 VA advisory committees – 15 statutory and 10 non-statutory –designed to provide advice on selected VA programs and policies.
- Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Members of the Board review benefit claims determinations made by local VA offices and issue decision on appeals.
- Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Develops partners with, provide relevant information to, and expands participation of faith-based, nonprofit, and community/neighborhood organizations in VA programs.
- Center for Minority Veterans. Acts as a mediator and facilitator in assisting eligible Veterans in their efforts to receive VA benefits and services.
- Center for Women Veterans. Monitors and coordinates VA’s administration of health care and benefits services, and programs for women Veterans.
- Navigation, Advocacy, and Community Engagement. Responsible for the Federal Recovery Coordination Program providing support for the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of severely injured, ill or wounded service members and Veterans. Also enables Veteran advocates, service providers, Veterans and stakeholders to have a voice in identifying their community goals and work to improve service delivery.
- Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction (OALC). Directs the acquisition, logistics, construction, and leasing functions within the Department. In addition to its Washington, D.C. Headquarters offices, there are support offices in N.J., Texas, Virginia, and Maryland. The Office has three (3) major components:
- The Office of Acquisition and Logistics is responsible for the VA’s acquisition workforce professional development and operates the VA Acquisition Academy.
- The Office of Acquisition Operations provides strategic and operational acquisition support for the Agency’s complex acquisition requirements.
- The Office of Construction and Facilities Management plans, designs and constructs all major construction projects greater than $10 Million; acquires property and long-term leases. It maintains Offices of Operations in four (4) Regional Offices across the Nation.
- Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs. Manages and coordinates all matters involving the Congress. Its Office of Congressional Affairs is responsible for policy and legislative issues, as well as congressional oversight and outreach. Its Office of Intergovernmental Affairs serves as VA’s liaison and as the primary point of contact with federal, state, local, American Indian, and Native Alaskan Government officials.
- Office of Employment Discrimination Complaint Adjudication. An independent VA adjudicatory authority created by Congress. Its mission is to objectively review the merits of employment discrimination claims filed by present and former VA employees and non-agency applicants for employment.
- Office of General Counsel. Identifies and meets the legal needs of the Department. Its primary objective is to ensure the just and faithful execution of the laws, regulations and policies that the Secretary administers. There are two (2) Chief Counsel offices in each VA District.
- Office of Regulation Policy and Management. Provides centralized management and control for the formulation and control of all VA regulations. Responsible for VA’s rulemaking process and a comprehensive review, reorganization and rewrite of VA’s existing regulations.
- Office of Human Resources and Administration. Leads human capital management strategies, policies, and practices.
- Office of Information and Technology. Provides strategic and technical direction, guidance, and policy to ensure that the Department’s IT resources are acquired and managed in accordance with Federal laws and regulations.
- Office of Inspector General. Provides oversight designed to improve the economy, effectiveness and efficiency of VA programs, and to prevent and to detect criminal activity, waste, abuse, and fraud. The Office of Inspector General has investigations, audit and evaluation, management and administrative, and healthcare inspections offices across the country.
- Office of Management. Oversees all resource requirements, development and implementation of agency performance measures, and financial management activities relating to VA programs and operations.
- Office of Operations, Security and Preparedness. Coordinates VA’s emergency management, preparedness, personal identity verification, physical security, personnel security and suitability, police services and law enforcement activities.
- Office of Policy and Planning. Serves as the principal advisor to VA leaders on all matters of policy and organizational strategy. Develops and reviews Departmental policy, analyzes Veteran trends and statistics, evaluates and oversees transformation initiatives, and guides strategic planning.
- Office of Public Affairs. Includes the Office of Public Affairs; the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (acting as a conduit between the VA and federal, state, local, American Indian and Native Alaskan government officials); and the Office of Field Operations (providing public affairs advice and expertise via 7 regional offices). Also manages and oversees the National Veterans Outreach Office and he Homeless Veterans Outreach and Strategic Communications Office.
- Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. Enables Veterans to gain access to economic opportunity by leveraging the federal procurement system and expanding participation of procurement-ready small businesses.
- Office of Survivors Assistance. Provides comprehensive support to survivors and dependents of deceased Veterans and members of the Armed Services.
- Veterans Service Organizations Liaison. Primary advisor on matters affecting Veterans Service Organizations and other Veteran advocacy groups. Responsible for VA’s day-to-day liaison with those organizations.
Department of Veterans Affairs Challenges: In 2015, VA was rated in #18 among the 19 large federal agencies by the Partnership for Public Service’s “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government.” Overall rankings measured employee satisfaction and commitment. Scoring considered categories including: effective leadership; mission match to employee skills; strategic management; teamwork, innovation, training and development; work-life balance; support for diversity; and performance-based rewards and advancement. Among 320 ranked government subcomponents, the Office of the Inspector General ranked #22; NCA ranked; VHA ranked #238; the VBA ranked #246; and the VA Central Office ranked #276.
In recent years, VHA facilities have been significantly pressured due to profound injury of service members and required levels of care. While some of the problems were external, others were attributable to leadership. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published numerous Reports over the past half-dozen years responding to Congressional concerns regarding the timeliness, cost-effectiveness, quality and safety of VA health system. Congressional oversight regarding the VHA has recently focused on: (1) ambiguous policies and inconsistent processes, (2) inadequate oversight and accountability, (3) information technology challenges, (4) inadequate training for staff, and (5) unclear resource needs and allocation priorities. The Agency has also been plagued by technology and information management challenges. IT challenges have included failed attempts to modernize the VHA outpatient appointment scheduling system, inability to electronically share data across facilities, and lack of electronic health records systems permitting efficient exchange of patient health information when military service members transition from DoD to VA health care systems. Congress enacted the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 to fund care outside of the VA health care system under certain circumstances, facilitate hiring additional medical staff to augment the VA’s health care workforce, improve capital infrastructure, and fund advances in information technology.
At the VBA, benefits processing and the delivery of timely and accurate benefits have come under Congressional scrutiny. Areas of concern have related to the large (but recently reduced) inventories of pending claims for benefits, accuracy of claims decisions, data integrity, and management.
Other areas of concern relate to VA’s contracting and procurement practices and a large number of whistleblower complaints of agency wrongdoing.
The Agency has been attempting to reinvent itself by changing its internal dynamics and focusing on the way it measures performance. A new Secretary was confirmed in 2014 and the VA is addressing management concerns, disciplinary actions, backlogs, surges in claims, and delays/wait times for appointments. The VA Center for Innovation (VACI), launched in 2010, has been working to identify, test, and evaluate new approaches to meet current and future Veteran needs. VACI is driven by a Veteran-centric approach and partners with other organizations to ensure new approaches to VA’s most pressing challenges.
While there are significant challenges for the Agency, many opportunities exist for dedicated mission-oriented employees to make a difference.
Civilian Career Fields: VA has vacancies across the country for candidates with education and experience in a number of fields, including:
- Health Professionals (Job Series 0600) at the VHA. There are approximately 80,000 nurses (RNs, LPNs, and nursing assistants), 14,000 physicians, 6,500 pharmacists, 2,000 physician assistants, and 800 dentists employed full time by the VHA. Employment opportunities exist for: Medical and Dental Officers; Physician Assistants; Registered Nurses, Practical Nurses and Nursing Assistants; Dental Assistants and Hygienists; Nurse Anesthetists; Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians; Physical and Occupational Therapists; Radiologic Technologists; Speech Pathologists/Audiologists; and Dietitians/Nutritionists. The VA and VHA also employ a large number of Social Workers (Job Series 0185).
TIP 6: For health care professionals, only one (1) current, active professional state license is necessary to practice anywhere in the U.S.
TIP 7: In addition to a Federal Resume, health professionals must submit specific VA application forms in order for the VA to determine to determine eligibility for appointment. See VA Forms 10-2850, 10-2850A, 10-2850B, and 10-2850C available on the VA website: http://www.va.gov/vaforms/search_action.asp?FormNo=10-2850&tkey=&Action=Search.
- Veterans Service Representatives and Veterans Claims Examiners (Job Series 0996) at the VBA.
- Contract Specialists (Job Series 1102).
- Management and Program Analysts (Job Series 0343 and 0850).
TIP 8: Consider one of the many internship programs at the VA for students, recent graduates, current employees, Veterans and outside candidates. The length of time varies for up to 2 years and may offer you an opportunity gain relevant first-hand experience. Link to the programs at: http://mycareeratva.va.gov/library/55.
TIP 9: VOLUNTEER WORK: There are over 120,000 active volunteers in VA’s Voluntary Service who donate millions of hours every year. Remember that qualifying “experience” for applying for Federal Jobs includes both paid and unpaid experience. Volunteer work can help to build your critical competencies, knowledge and skills that may translate directly to paid employment.
Current Vacancies: There are currently close to 2,300 VA General Schedule (GS) vacancies throughout the country for positions posted in USAJOBS. The vast majority of those are with the Veterans Health Administration. Many are between the GS-7 and GS-15 levels. Occupations with the most current vacancies are:
- Medical, Dental & Public Health (Job Series 0600) – by far, the largest number of vacancies
- Social Science, Psychologist, Social Worker (Job Series 0100)
- Management, Administrative & Clerical Services (Job Series 0300)
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The next blog in the Federal Agency Series will focus on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
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Ellen Lazarus is a Resume Place Certified Federal Job Search Trainer, Federal Resume Writer and Career Coach. She is a former Legislative Branch senior executive.