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Department: Pearls

Healing our heroes

Why I became a VA hospital nurse

McManus, Robert N. BSN, RN

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/01.CCN.0000515985.62859.1e
  • Free

I work as an ED nurse in my local Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital. I chose this career path after graduating from nursing school 9 years ago, but I prefer to say that nursing chose me. When I considered becoming a nurse, the opportunities to express compassion through action, care for patients with chronic diseases, and honor our armed forces felt like a calling. As a U.S. Air Force veteran, I have the opportunity to give back to the brave men and women with whom I share life-changing experiences.

At my facility in South Carolina, the majority of patients present with chronic diseases and their complications. We also care for patients with minor traumatic injuries. Posttraumatic stress disorder among veterans long ago reached epidemic proportions, and is also something I see frequently.1

Patient-teaching opportunities

The patient education aspect of my job validates my decision to join the VA healthcare system. Many patients simply need a refresher on how to care for their particular health disorder, while others require more intensive patient education.

Patient education strategies must be flexible because the patient population is diverse. Many patients experience recurrent complications because they do not adhere to their care plans or receive regular healthcare. Although some patients are well educated, others can barely read. We also encounter patients with comprehension deficiencies resulting from substance abuse. Helping these patients understand and manage their chronic diseases is highly rewarding.

The burden placed on the VA hospital system has increased because of heavier caseloads, budget constraints, and understaffing.2 To complicate matters, many veterans have negative attitudes about healthcare and may fear hospitalization. For veterans who do not receive regular healthcare, ED nurses may be the first healthcare professionals they encounter. This requires an extraordinary amount of empathy and compassion; ED nurses must demonstrate an understanding of the patient's situation and provide emotional support while managing the current crisis.

Gratifying experiences

Every branch of the armed forces is represented among the patients at my facility. I have met and cared for so many amazing veterans, including survivors of the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day, and prisoners of war from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

My patients often ask if I am a veteran and express relief when they realize I understand their experience firsthand. I enjoy the camaraderie and friendship we share with our mutual military experience. Many patients tell me the medical care they receive on my unit is the best they have ever experienced. This is gratifying to hear and a constant encouragement for me to continue working in the VA healthcare system.

Bedrock of purpose

Caring for veterans requires compassion and excellent communication skills. Patient advocacy is a terrific way to demonstrate care through action and gain the respect and trust of military veterans. These aspects of nursing are what drive me to deliver the best care possible to my patients, the brave men and women who serve our country.


1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. How common is PTSD? 2016.
2. Gallup. Majority of U.S. veterans say access to VA care difficult. 2014.
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