US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

  1. Hi all,

    I was just wondering if anyone had any info on what it is like to work for US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. I know its not military nursing but it is working for the feds so I figured this was the most appropriate area to post in. Any info at all would be appreciated.
    Thanks!
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  2. 16 Comments

  3. by   BSNinTX
    Quote from wannabecatcher
    Hi all,

    I was just wondering if anyone had any info on what it is like to work for US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. I know its not military nursing but it is working for the feds so I figured this was the most appropriate area to post in. Any info at all would be appreciated.
    Thanks!
    Sorry for the slow response; I don't get on here much.

    I am a PHS nurse. Check out usphs.gov for some info.

    PHS is a great opportunity and I recommend it a lot. Pay and benefits are good, promotion opportunities are good, sign-on bonuses are available, etc.

    Just know that the jobs are often in undesirable places: prisons, isolated Indian Health Services locations, etc. OR in the Washington and Atlanta areas.

    If there is anything I can answer or help with, please let me know.
  4. by   exnavygirl-RN
    I've been reviewing the PHS site and it looks very tempting. I have 5 years active duty in the Navy. I've been out a little over 10 years. I miss being in the service and I guess that is why i'm drawn to this....


    I'm in school for my BSN at this time.


    Any information or advice would be greatly appreciated.


    Christy
  5. by   Itshamrtym
    Check out older threads.... there are a lot of them on allnurses!!! good luck to you...
  6. by   exnavygirl-RN
    Thanks. I've done that.


    Quote from Itshamrtym
    Check out older threads.... there are a lot of them on allnurses!!! good luck to you...
  7. by   quezen
    Be very, very careful about joining the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). It sounds good, especially if you have active duty time and you are dreaming of possibly getting your "20" without ever having to run PT, go to the range or deploy, ever again.
    Some people do make it and retire, it can happen, however, this is a service that does not have clear cut personnel procedures, it is a 'uniformed service', they have 'navy ranks and navy uniforms' (they have USPHS ranks, but even they don't know what they are, so they call each other by navy ranks- the uniform is the same as the navy with a different 'patch'), so they like to throw around military sounding jargon-but they have not the slightest idea of what this 'jargon' might have originally meant. This is a service which is basically run by pharmacists. Generally the higher ranking persons who 'run the show' are pharmacists who are now in an office job making administrative decisions which will affect your life and career.
    If you are accused of making a mistake, you will be 'written up' by whoever your boss is, or which ever co-worker is out to get you.
    Just like the judicial system, little to no evidence is needed to 'accuse' someone of something, you just 'write them up'. In the USPHS the 'write up' is the proof of your guilt, the higher up or more important the person is who 'wrote you up' the more guilty you are. Yes, you are allowed to defend yourself-on the back side of this fear-generating piece of paper, the 'write up', you will be allowed to write your version of the event in question. Also, you can be 'written up' for anything, ( an example from my experience-not reattaching a 'TKO' IV disconnected from a healthy person scheduled for discharge because they wanted to walk to the bathroom). Even if you are following clinic or hospital rules, if you displease a member of one of the groups the USPHS serves and they complain about you, guess what-you have now been 'written up!'
    The complaints against you will then be consolidated and sent to the USPHS 'adverse actions' officer. This person (a pharmacist at this time, previously it was a nurse), will decide your sentence, you will not be asked how you plea because you, dear, powerless USPHS Officer, are already considered guilty, there is no JAG office for you!
    After going through an experience like this (as I am sure you have already figured out-it happened to me), you long for the honesty and directness of a good old fashion 'court marshal'.
    You are not told this by anyone after the USPHS has found you "guilty" and has sent you orders kicking you out, but if you are really persistent you will discover that there does exist a "Commissioned Corps Board of Correction of Records". You can write to this 'Board', if you can somehow find their phone number and address. This Board is composed of a rotating list of retired USPHS civilians who were in a rank structure above "Civil Service", something like a 'managerial service' pay grade structure.
    You will spend over a year, possibly several years, writing to this 'Board' trying to defend yourself. The 'Division of Commissioned Personnel' of the USPHS will reply each time you write the 'Board', then you reply to this and so on. The 'Division of Commissioned Personnel' people who are responding to you are on active duty salary, they have paid secretarial support and the support of the legal division of the Department of Health and Human Services, what kind of chance do you think you realistically have? Forget guilt or innocence-you are a pawn in a political game, no one cares. In the words of one of the 'Adverse Actions Officers "you can fight if you want to but remember what they say,you can't fight city hall"!
    In the unlikely event that you win the 'Board' ( I did-it took me three years and every dime of my life savings-by the way my case was # 00225, in case anyone thinks I am making this up), your case will then be reviewed by the "Director of the Program Support Center", which somehow is a "private management company", headed by the direct designee of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and paid for by you and me dear taxpayer. This political appointee, who is 'biding time' until they can get a better appointment,(they are never there long), may then 'non-concure' with the USPHS Board for Correction of Records decision, for any indecipherable reason he dreams up, and then guess what-you may be innocent and you may have fought for years and won battle after battle but you have now lost the war!
    This was my experience with the USPHS Commissioned Corps upper management.
    I was with this service (USPHS) in the early 80es, transfered to the Army, and then went back to the USPHS, because, just like all the services you meet interesting people, you get to work with people and in places that you may not otherwise get to know, and you may, if you can stick it out, end up with a retirement. From this point of view, interesting people and varied duty, I recommend any and all of the services.
    It is my hope that someday the USPHS Commissioned Corps will clean up their act. There is an enormous potential to do a lot of good locked up in this service, with the right leadership and a unified vision of what health care could be like in the United States.
    For now though it is a hodge podge of conflicting political interests tied to huge amounts of money in a field with an unlimited capacity to generate funds. As a Commissioned Corps Officer providing care to patients you are a 'pawn' in somebody's high stakes game. You may have no interest in playing politics but you get caught up in these games just because you exist in that system.
    For me, the ordeal I had to live through with the USPHS still haunts me. After all I went through with my fight before this 'Board', losing everything I had, and lived for over three years thinking I was a 'dishonorably discharged' Officer from the service of my country, I discovered that I was still in the Army! One morning I got a phone call, "Ma' am, no one in this Unit knows who you are but you need to know that you have been activated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and you have 24 hours to report to duty." I could not believe what I was hearing! The USPHS had never gotten a release form the Army for my Commission, I was a 'non-drilling' Army Reserve this entire time! I dug out my boots, dog tags and uniform, reported in, passed the PT test, learned how to put on the new beret, tried to explain my story to a Sargent who was trying to SRP troops to get them ready to deploy ( "yes ma' am, whatever you say ma'am, now would you please get in line for your shots"), tried to explain my story to JAG (ma'am, whenever we have these massive call ups we have people coming in here telling us we made a mistake and they are not really in the Army, you do have a pretty good story but I hate to tell you, if you are putting on the uniform every day, and going to work every day and getting paid, YOU are in the Army now!")
    Because of the experience I went through with the USPHS I will probably never get a retirement, ( I have 3 years of Active Duty service with the USPHS which I cannot get into my records because "you can only hold one Commission in one service at a time") my age is working against me, but I am so thankful that I got to do some Active Duty tours with the Army. I was able to get my own self respect back. Yes, I had to get up at "O dark thirty",and yes I had to work those 15 to 20 hour days (and nights), and there were times when I felt like it was all just too much, but I was able to again interact with all the people from all over the country who serve, I saw the good and the bad and did what I could to make it better, I saw the "new" young soldiers and, dirt bags excepted, most of them made me feel proud to be associated with them. I saw all the improvements the military has put in with electronic career management and I am heartened that, although it is not perfect, the military personnel departments are trying hard.
    What I went through really, really hurt me a lot. The USPHS did, and still does treat things like this as a joke, they think it's funny to see someone emotionally bleeding to death. Slam me with an M16 round any day compared to this treatment. At least you will be evacuated and someone will take care of you before they start to call you an idiot for being in the wrong place a the wrong time!
  8. by   Miss Mab
    Thank you for your service, Quezen.

    I'm very sorry for your negative experiences. Best to you in your future endeavors!

    Mab
  9. by   BSNinTX
    I'm sorry your experience was so negative. I have worked with many officers and have NEVER heard anything like it.

    When were you in? I will say that the "Old Corps" had/has many problems. Some of those things are changing. The transformed Corps will, hopefully, address many of these issues.

    For those who are considering the USPHS, please consider it still. Talk to some officers who are in now and see what they think. There are many of us and I think most will willingly share their experiences - good and bad.

    As for still being in the Army, until you get a formal and complete discharge you are not out. I hate to say it, but some of that rests on you.
  10. by   quezen
    Dear BSN in TX;
    I did not mean to give the impression, by citing the story of what the JAG told me, that I, myself, was not happy about being in the Army, when I was called up. I was just very confused about WHY I was back in the Army. The Army called me up and told me to report to duty. I did not understand HOW or WHY they would do that if I was a kicked out Commissioned Corps Officer.
    What I meant to convey by telling the story about going to the JAG was that I was trying to straighten out, in my own mind and legally, what in the world had happened to me. I did not have a clue how I could be walking around in a US Army Uniform after all the horrible things the Commissioned Corps had said about me and done to me. Actually I was thrilled that I was in the Army, and, although I grumble at times like everyone else, I treasure each day that I get to be on active duty with the Reserves.,:redpinkhe,.
    By the way, the beginning of the end for me in the Commissioned Corps came when I sent the protocols under which the USPHS had us nurses carrying around the pharmacy keys on nights, weekend and holidays and diagnosing, treating and prescribing prescription medication to after hour weekend and holiday patients to the Texas State Board of Nursing.
    All of us Nurses knew that it was not right for Nurses to be doing this. We told management this over and over. "This is the way we have always done it and this is the way you will do it", was the reply. When I discovered that the 'Area Office' was billing Medicare, Medicaid and the VA for the services we nurses provided as if we were Primary Care Providers (the physician who was supposed to be 'on call' signed the ER sheet the next morning) I wrote to the Texas State Board of Nursing, described the situation and sent the protocols for review. I did not want to be mixed up with insurance fraud! After taking time to review the protocols the Texas State Board wrote back, naturally, that these protocols "might be legal for a Nurse Practitioner, but are not legal for you, as an RN, to preform".
    This was the catalyst event that started the chain that led management to gather up any and all little 'write-ups' against me, (and during this time some of my co-workers wrote me up for anything and everything, as they were instructed by management to do, kudos to the ones who resisted this pressure , I know who you are, and even though we will never see each other again-Thank You :heartbeat), and also to 'set me up' for phony AWOL charges- they told me to just 'put your leave slip in the box, someone will sign it, the bosses are all gone now', after I had been put on the schedule for approved leave. How stupid of me, but this is "how they always" did leave. I had gotten chewed out by them six months earlier because I had insisted that leave papers should be signed before an officer physically went on leave, just like the Reg says. I had over 55 days of unused leave. I had never taken a sick day. I have an OER from the Army mentioning my work ethic and the fact that I had never missed a day of work in over three years at an especially difficult duty station in a hard job. Why in the world would a person like that go AWOL, I asked the USPHS. No answer, just boom, over a thousand dollars deducted from my pay.
    Happily, for me the USPHS 'Board' agreed with me. " We unanimously agree that this Officer has done absolutely nothing wrong....", and that included the AWOL charges. I was also backed up by a brief from the attorney for the American Nurses Association. In the end, as I have said, all of this did me no good at all. If I had just kept my mouth shut, kept breaking the law and moved to another duty station I would have been retired now for for a couple of years.
    I have internally rationalized what happened to be by realizing that there are things in this world that a naive person like myself needed to learn about power and authority, especially when these are mixed up with huge amounts of money and blended together with this word that no one can quite define, 'caring'. (At least that is what I learned in graduate school, a popular exercise is the 'concept analysis', many Nurses will choose the word 'Caring" for their 'concept'. there are many interesting takes on what this actually means-but they all vary in their 'concept' of the word, who is right? By the way in other languages such as German there IS no word quite like 'caring'-basically caring means to provide a person with what they need.)
    I have been contacted, privately, from this site by an officer who had a similar thing happen to her. I don't know her story, she says it is similar, and that it weighs heavily on her. I will be in contact with this person, although there is nothing I can do for her perhaps I can 'lighten the load' that something like this takes on the spirit.
    You say you have never heard of anything like this happing to the USPHS Officers you work with, have you ever asked them? I am willing to bet you that they have heard many stories like this, if they will share them. The USPHS management can make a person very, very afraid, and with good reason. The officers you work with all have families, bills, mortgages and are hoping to end up with something in this life. I wish for all the good USPHS officers that they are able to 'catch the brass ring', and live happily ever after.
    As for me I have learned to shop at thrift stores, work PRN, heat with wood, drive my old pickup truck, and live without TV. I don't have any illusions that I will have much when I retire, but you know what-I have learned to focus on the 'things' in life which are most important, and none of them are 'things' at all.
    Don't interpret this to mean however that I am 'happy that I did the right thing, so I can sleep at night with a clear conscience', I just learned how stupid I was, thats all! If i needed to sleep I could have taken Ambien!:wink2:
  11. by   USNR
    Dear quezen and all others:
    I, too, experienced a similiar ordeal with the PHS CC. What quezen writes is the truth! I can't post the details because I fear retaliation (I still work for a federal agency and with many PHS officers). All taxpayers should be outraged that this group even exists. They are a disgrace to this country! The good men and women in the "real" military (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard) should receive the federal dollars (your taxes) that are spent on these non-deserving "active duty" members.

    I, too, am grateful to be a member of a military reserve component...I feel authentic and am proud to serve my country.

    I really wish our politicians would wise up and either eliminate this group as has been proposed many times or require them to serve our country as reservists much like the Army, Navy, etc. They should have to "do the time" to receive the benefits like members of the real military do.
  12. by   quezen
    Dear USNR,
    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for having validating what I know to be the truth. HOW MANY others of us ARE there!!!??
    There is something very strange about this whole organization. There is something very strange about the 'Program Support Center' which is ABOVE the Public Health Service on the line management chart which goes directly to the secretary of Health and Human Services. The Program Support Center is actually a quasi private management company, something like 'FANNIE MAY', would be my guess, but has anyone ever heard of it? HOW is it that a private management company is in charge of the government health programs and no one has ever even heard of them? It is all very strange and the amount of money involved is stagering. I am still afraid of these people.
    My sympathies go out to you in your struggle to deal with the ordeal you had to endure. I wish you the quiet peace of knowing that within your inner self you are the same worthwhile person you have always been. This organization has no truth, so nothing they say about a person can have any validity. The karmic stench of deaing with the USPHS management is strong, but just like with chemical weapons, the sunlight, the air, the rain, and time, and the truth of your own worth as a human being will evetually neturalize the poison they strew about them.
    Bleassings,
    Quezen
  13. by   BSN317
    I am REALLY interested in joining the PHS..but am having major difficulty finding a position. I graduated last year and have worked in mental health and now public health. I have applied and passed the nursing board-they gave me the green light to start looking for a position. Yet, the "recruiters" do not really recruit at all, they merely tell you where to apply and so forth. I really want this but it is just so frustrating. This process is SOOO LONG! I really dont want to give up yet I am getting irritated by the run around and such. Do any current officers have any input or suggestions? ANY INPUT would be appreciated.
  14. by   quezen
    I am the nurse with some of the horror stories about the Commissioned Corps that I have posted on this site.

    In fairness (I am a Libra, after all), I have to add that for some people, for at least a three year period, don't take everything I have said and as a 'roadmap' for the experence you might have with the Commissioned Corps.

    I keep reading the 'horror stories' in general about a lot of civilian nursing experences and I guess in their own way they are just as bad to the people who experenced them as what happen to me.

    Sometimes 'systems' are rotten, I guess it has always been this way. Get rid of the 'rotten' system and since nature abhors a vacumn another system will just rise up to take it's place and with time that system may get rotten too (I guess a 'concept analyses of 'rotten' would be in order here, but I'll spare you!) It's how a person uses these systems to get through life that matters, and I guess, and in some cases the Commissioned Corps would be a good place to start a career.

    The problems start with thinking that you can make a 20 year carreer, just like some of the people with an 'in' of an ethnic qualification, or a personal relationship with the 'brass' do. You get in, you get addicted to the money and the benifits, and you see others with a lot less smarts than you have effortlesly get a retirement and you want that too. Well as a Nurse, you probably won't get it!
    However, that said, I believe you can get some student loans forgiven by 36 months of service with these people, you can get the GI bill, and you can qualify for a VA loan after 36 months of service, plus, I know for all you imortal youngesters this does't count, but eventually the governmnet will pick up your burial costs, just the VA system does. All for only 36 months of your life!
    I realize that a lot of these things are important to young people starting out, so I think I should be fair and give both sides of the picture.
    If you are smart, and can duck and dive and are flexible and willing transfere to stay ahead of the "BS" for a 36 month tour, it may be for you.
    Also, YOU CAN ITER-SERVICE TRANSFERE. You may not have the nerve, right out of Nursing school to go to an Armed Forces recruter. You are pretty beat up from surviving Nursing school and your first job. However, 36 months of a decent salery, government benefits, meeting new people and dealing with 'different' systems, and you may change your mind and call that Army, Navy, or Airforce Recruiter. The important thing then would be that the 36 months Commissioned Corps service transfere as direct active service time, and you have a head start in the next service. You would not be such a 'newby'.

    Now, for someone like the former Navy person, it may be that they would expect a personnel system with clear performance objectives and a well designated chain of command. This is not to be found in the Commissioned Corps, but then this is not to be found in a lot of civilian jobs, either.
    Also, former soldiers, and sailors ane smart and cagey, because they have absorbed, sort of by osmosis, survival skills from the experences they dealt with in their 'former' life in the service. Who knows, maybe they can 'fly under the radar' and get that 20 years with the USPHS. Everyone has their own experience, in whatever service you could name. I don't want to dissuade someone from an experence that may be dificult, but that in the end they may profit from just because I, myself, had a bad time of it.
    NO, the USPHS is NOT paying me to say some positive things about them. I still have not gotten anywhere with solving my problem with them, and I still think some of these people are names that I can't use on this site.
    HOWEVER, the new Chief Nurse of the Commissioned Corps gives me the impression that she is a graceful, honest person.
    If a system is ever to change, it changes with people, one 'good' person at a time. This lady, Admiral Romano, does not come from the Indian Health Service but rather the National Instutes of Health. Maybe she will be a 'new' wind blowing some good into this organization. I know that just like they say with Washington DC scene, 'its the nature of the system there, it will not change and it will eventually wear down anyone who trys to change it'. But I believe in a basic something in people and maybe, this new Chief Nurse, with some good nurses watching her back, could make a difference for the better. I hope I am not wrong in my impression of her, I have been fooled before, but something is just telling me to tell both sides of the Commissioned Corps experence.
    So if think the Commissioned Corps is for you, try it, keep your head down, and keep us 'has beens' updated on what your experence was like.
    Last edit by quezen on May 29, '09 : Reason: spelling

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