Please help decode GS pay scales...where do you start?

Specialties Government


My husband is AD and I want to work in the military hospital here after I graduate in May. I understand that I may need a year of experience, lots of paperwork, etc. and I think I can handle all that, but when I was trying to figure out what the pay would be, I came up with ADN nurses starting out at GS 4 and make about 10.50/hour or I guess 12 something with locality pay (whatever that is, my location would be the "Rest of US" category). Surely this can't be right? I expected that the pay wouldn't be as good, but that's only just over half as much as regular hospital employees make in this area, that's less than I made working as a waitress. In other posts in this category, It was mentioned that people were working in GS 9-GS 11 positions, but maybe you need a whole lot of experience first, more than a year for that, I don't know, but the document I read seemed to indicate that brand new nurses started out at GS 3 - GS4. Also, please explain steps within pay scale, is this comparable to time in service in military? Please help me decode this system and give me an idea how it works. Is it beneficial to wait until you've got a few years under your belt in a regular hospital before jumping ship to GS? By the way, I should mention that I have no interest in working VA as I want to do OB and L&D (future plans to attend midwifery school). Thanks in advance!

Daytonite, BSN, RN

4 Articles; 14,603 Posts

Specializes in med/surg, telemetry, IV therapy, mgmt.

Ah, the wonderful world of the U.S. government. This locality pay business is how the military hospitals and V.A. hospitals correct that problem you noticed with the GS scale. Each step with a GS level represents one year of service. So, every year you move one step up the scale. The longer you work for the government, the more money you make. This is why people in the most menial of jobs stay in government service for 30 or 40 years. I was hired by a V.A. hospital and was almost ready to quit before I started because of the pay--it was so low. My manager kept reassuring me that she was going to fix things up. And, she did as she promised. There was a committee that reviewed all the files of the new hirees and discussed the pay level that they would start at. These people have the authority to turn the GS scale on it's head somewhat. When the military or V.A. hospitals have to compete with the local hospitals for nurses, they come up with the salaries needed to hire in the guise of locality pay. Locality pay is just an upward adjustment in the entire GS scale for that particular facility that is supposed to reflect the cost of living for that area.

Be prepared to wait a long time before you hear anything about your applications for employment. Things move slowly due to the paperwork. But, don't give up. Just when you think they probably forgot about you, you'll get a call from them. The benefits are fantastic. I couldn't believe how fast my retirement account was growing when I worked at the V.A.

Hope this answers your question.


8 Posts

I work in an Army hospital on the L&D unit and have for 22 years. My hospital has a 5-7-9 program for new grad RN's. You come in at a GS 5, work for 6 months and if doing good go to GS7 for 6 months.After a year you can go to GS9. Then after you are career (3 yrs) you can go to a GS10. We do have GS11 nurses but they are nurse practioners and midwives.


85 Posts

Specializes in Pediatric Emergency.

What am I missing here? I live in the DC metro area and the pay chat that I got was from

So if you start as a NG as a GS 5 step 1 ($34,075), that's like $16 plus change... The average NG starting pay in DC is somewhere around $25-30 per hr, how does the VA have competitive salary? Even an NG joining the military gets better pay than that. Is there a housing allowance or something that I'm missing?


81 Posts

You can start above a GS-5.

jeckrn, BSN, RN

1,868 Posts

Specializes in EMT, ER, Homehealth, OR.

The VA does not use the GS scale for its nurses. It uses a title 38 pay scale with a locality pay added in. From what I seen working at the VA is they start out on the lower end of the pay scale but if you stay with them you will end up making more then the civilian world for the same amount of experience. You also need to look at benefits not just pay.

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