VA RN grading and pay. Was there a mistake?

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Hello, I have recently been hired by the VA and feel as though I was hired at the wrong level. I obtained my BSN in 3 of 2015, however, prior to that, I have been and worked consistently as an RN since 10/2009. That is over 5 years of RN experience, starting off in the MICU, then doing IR, and now hired by the VA back in a MICU. My salary is much lower than the private sector. I took a $17K pay cut, and now I feel as if I made a mistake.

I understand the benefits are great with the VA but I live in NYC where our hospitals are unionized and the benefits are just as good as the VA, but with a much higher pay rate.

Can someone let me know how to go about determining if I was hired at the correct level and grade? I was hired as a RN 1, Level 2, Step 5.

I also believe I have 30 days to dispute this which means I only have about a week left until I have been here for 30 days.

Thank you for your input.

It is hard to navigate the VA where I work because I am constantly being redirected to a different department that is supposed to be able to help me.

Editorial Team / Moderator

Lunah, MSN, RN

33 Articles; 13,748 Posts

Specializes in EMS, ED, Trauma, CNE, CEN, CPEN, TCRN. Has 15 years experience.

It seems like you should be a Nurse II, but I am definitely not a VA payroll expert! I work for the government, but not the VA. But this is what I see on USAjobs:

Nurse I Level I - An Associate Degree (ADN) or Diploma in Nursing, no experience.

Nurse I Level II - An ADN or Diploma in Nursing and approximately 1 year of experience, or an ADN or Diploma in Nursing and a bachelor's degree in a related field and no experience; or a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) and no experience.

Nurse I Level III - An ADN or Diploma in Nursing and approximately 2-3 years of experience, or an ADN or Diploma in Nursing and a bachelors degree in a related field and approximately 1-2 years of experience; or a BSN with approximately 1-2 years of experience, or a Master's degree in nursing (MSN) or related field with a BSN and no experience.

Nurse II - A BSN with approximately 2-3 years of experience, or ADN or Diploma in Nursing and a bachelors degree in a related field and approximately 2-3 years experience or a Master's degree in nursing or related field with a BSN and approximately 1-2 years experience, or a Doctoral degree in nursing or meets basic requirements for appointment and has doctoral degree in a related field with no experience.

Nurse III - Master's degree in nursing or related field with BSN and approximately 2-3 years experience or Doctoral degree in nursing or related field and approximately 2-3 years experience. Applicant's successful nursing practice and length of nursing practice (experience) will be considered by a Nurse Professional Standards Board in determining the grade and salary of the applicant selected.


10 Posts

Hello Pixie, thank you for your reply. That is what is confusing me. I do not want to question my decision in joining the VA because I did choose this job based on other aspects such as serving our Veterans. I just want to make sure that I am getting compensated appropriately. I did do a review when I was hired requesting a higher salary and I was denied. I never got an explanation, I was just told that "they said no". It's very hard to navigate the system and find out information about your status. I haven't even had a chance to look at my first pay stub yet because I am still waiting on a pin number that they send in the mail.

I just hope that since it takes a long time to move up pay grades, I will not be stuck with such a low salary going on my 7th year of nursing.


54 Posts

The quote from the posting is not exactly as black and white as it seems. When you were hired they asked you to write to specific components that were then taken to the Nursing Professional Standards Board, they determined your rate and based on your responses, experience, and education. You can try again next year to get bumped to nurse 2 with your proficiency. I would ask to speak to the chair is the nursing professional standards board at your VA for advice. There is also an awesome website I use for learning more about the process. If you have 30 days to dispute you need to write up your request for reconsideration and submit to HR to have documentation while you work on it.

Glad you are investing energy to stay caring for our Veterans!

Good luck!


41 Posts

The boarding process was the most nerve-racking aspect of the hiring process for me. You won't even see the boarding document until several months later when they tell you it's been filed in your record. And even then it only tells you the result and who was on the board.

I analyzed the 9 dimensions of nursing and pulled everything from my master resume and also scoured every eval I ever had as a nurse to address the specific areas. I wanted to show my experience and all the subspecialty codes I had attained. As a former military, nurse I also wanted to show my leadership experience and preceptor roles I had been involved with to show that they weren't just getting a worker but a leader who could make the VA better (I know...cheesy but you have to show what you are bringing to the table.)

I'm glad to say that what they offered me was pretty fair and that if they had low-balled me I would have appealed and probably have taken my services to another federal agency. It seems that you should have at least been made an RNII.


36 Posts

The boarding process can be, and usually is a nightmare. All depends on the Nursing Administrationof the VA where you work

I will not mention my previous hospital (the government monitorsocial media. I've known staff that was fired for things they wrote on their Facebook pages). The facility had a reputation of never advancing nurses in their step. Work there over 7 years and only knew of a few whom advanced an s step. Usually the one receiving their increasewere admin, or managerial. This caused major moral problems. Even had cases where a new employee was hiredas a step 2 or even a 3, when there was staff with more experience and educationalready working as a step 1. Yes, thestaff had tried the boarding, putting all the paperwork (9 dimensions ofnursing) together]

The VA is a different animal. Not for everybody. Some good, lot's bad. Just have to understand the culture, and accept things for what they are.

CraigB-RN, MSN, RN

1,224 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care, Emergency, Education, Informatics. Has 40 years experience.

Yeah. That is probably about right. since 2009 and then BSN in 2015. 1st thing is the VA never makes mistakes. :)

Step raises do happen. My time as a CNO and Clinical Educator at a 1000 bed hospital didn't get me any more money at all. Now at the one year mark, I jumped a step. So it all worked out in the end.

The key thing now is to get a copy of your functional level and make sure your doing the things you need to take the next step. Watch your dates and have your paperwork ready. Look at things like CCRN etc. These all help.

I didn't worry as much about the pay cut when I started, I knew I was going to be taking a night shift and the differential brought me up to were I needed to be.


284 Posts

Specializes in Utilization Review. Has 11 years experience.

I started at the VA five years ago, at the time I applied I had my BSN, and MSN with 6 years of ICU, and School Nursing, I came in as a Nurse II step 2. I was promoted to a Nurse 3 step 1 after only a year. But I don't think they are promoting much anymore, they have made it really hard in the last few years, it depends who does your boarding. I do know at your 1 year mark you can do an Education Waiver, you can only do it one time in your career. I have a coworker that has only a BSN and did her waiver to get her Nurse 3. Currently i make 95K at the VA as a nurse 3 step 2, but I do Utilization Review for a Consolidated Patient Account Center. I don't work as a floor or clinic nurse. I believe the only reason i was able to get my Nurse 3 is because we were being boarded by VACO and they did not know what the UR nurses really did. I say definitely dispute it, I live in South Texas our pay scale is very high here and low cost of living. My starting salary was 72K, i was excited at first it was a huge pay raise, I should have disputed my rating also, but I did not know enough. I know that I was lucky to get promoted to a 3, i have managers that can't even get a 3. Benefits are great because retirement is great, VA is a mess!!!! But I also Telework, so while i don't love my job, or the system which is messed up, and my managers are some of most unintelligent clueless nurses i have ever known, I won't leave my job. I have learned soon much in 5 years about how the system works.

I can't make my salary and have my 8-4 pm M-F schedule, plus 26 vacation days, 13 sick days and 10 federal holidays ANY WHERE I live. But i don't know what your area is and what type of Nurse you are.

I am happy to try to assist, I wish I had someone tell me all this stuff. but for me getting an offer of 72k was amazing, that being said i have been thru a lot with horrible horrible supervisors, like some of the stuff i can't even have dreamed could have been done.


10 Posts

Wow thank you to everyone who has replied thus far. I ended up not disputing it because I realized that the day I posted the question, I actually only had up until the next day to dispute. So, with that said, I am hoping that with my weekend differential, I can make up some of the difference. I have been thinking about going part time and working part time at my per-diem job tthat pays me $18 more per hour than I currently make at the VA. I heard that the education scholarships are awarded to part time nurses as well.

I am an ICU nurse with the VA, I do plan to go back to school, hopefully with the VA scholarship which awards a max of $36K, then you owe them 3 years of service. I don't mind that. I just need help navigating the system. I don't get much help from anyone at my VA, and some nurses have told me that it took them over 10 years of working there to finally figure out the benefits available to them. I do not want to wait that long to figure it out lol.

RN4KU, you sound like you really know how to navigate the VA and I would love to speak more in depth with you, possibly becoming a friend who I can turn to with questions here and there if you don't mind. I am just trying to get the most out of my experience here, as I am a very dedicated and compassionate nurse. I feel that for all that I have to offer to our Veterans , I do deserve to also be paid appropriately. I believe I am the change that the VA has been searching for, as we know, not all, but there are some nurses and other staff at the VA that are there just to do their time and collect their beneifts. I am looking to make a difference here, and possibly on a grander scale with the VA in the future.


284 Posts

Specializes in Utilization Review. Has 11 years experience.

I feel like i have learned a lot, thru trial and error. Some facilities do offer a 50-60K loan repayment, but it is largely dependent on the facility. The facility I am located is in South Texas and they offered it last year, but I don't work for the facility i work for the Consolidated Patient Account Center and I am stationed at this facility to do the revenue and billing.

I don't 100% understand the system I just know, pretty much to get promoted its really more about your words and how you write you annual proficiency. You do a proficiency yearly and at your 1 year you can ask to be reviewed for an education waiver. I don't work as a clinic or floor nurse so I am not sure how it may vary for you. I wish you the best in making a difference, I don't have the most positive things to say about my managers, and I hear its about the same everywhere. I hope that is not the case, but who knows. All the managers I have had, exhibit really poor leadership styles.


10 Posts

My manager so far seems to be excellent, however I am still very new so I could be wrong.

I need to find out how to access an employee handbook so I could understand what benefits are available to me, and what would be if I were to go part time.

Thank you so much for all of your input.

CraigB-RN, MSN, RN

1,224 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care, Emergency, Education, Informatics. Has 40 years experience.

As soon as you get there, look around and find out who really understands the system. Make friends with them! Like any bureaucracy it is big and complicated. But manageable.

Keep a notebook or log file, Every time you do something above and beyond write it down. Take every opportunity to get involved in projects. Volunteer for skills days, committees, etc. They are all things that will help you in the future. I just got step raise and I didn't need to use an education waver. Get help writing your annual proficiency.