There are many military-related volunteer opportunities; some people donate their time with the USO, military aid societies such as the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society or Air Force Aid Society, and even the Red Cross.
But some volunteers want to do work that is more closely associated with the needs of veterans and their families and the Department of Veterans Affairs offers plenty of ways to do that.
Unlike the Red Cross, military aid organizations, and the other opportunities, the Department of Veterans Affairs generally offers volunteer slots for stateside volunteering only.
It’s true that veterans can claim VA benefits from an overseas location and even get VA assistance for obtaining medical care in a foreign country, but this is all administered from the United States.
But there is a big need for volunteers in a variety of VA operations. The problem for some is a simple matter of not knowing where to start or what is expected from a VA volunteer. Did you know the Department of Veterans Affairs has a program to match volunteers with VA opportunities in their local area?
VA Voluntary Service accepts applications online for a variety of positions. Getting started is as simple as filling out an online form on the VA official site and getting matched with a coordinator in the volunteer’s city or state.
Frequently Asked Questions About Volunteering With The Department Of Veterans Affairs
How Do I Get Started Volunteering With The VA?
The Department of Veterans Affairs official site includes a page where you can fill out online forms to volunteer or to donate to the VA. The link takes you to an online form.
Prospective volunteers are required to provide their name, address, contact information, and select a VA facility near them to volunteer at; there may be other needs in the local area, but initially it’s best to choose a preferred location for volunteering.
Once your online form is complete and submitted, an email is automatically sent to a VA Voluntary Service program manager in the applicable region. A local VA rep will contact you to arrange an interview and/or request more information.
The Volunteer Form Mentions The Need For Donations To The Department Of Veterans Affairs. Am I Required To Make Donations As A Volunteer?
The VA official site does not mention a requirement to make donations to the VA as a volunteer, but it’s entirely possible that your volunteer work could involve handling, processing, or otherwise working with donations of goods, services, and money.
What Kinds Of Donations Are Needed By The VA?
Those who wish to donate as well as volunteer will learn quickly that the needs of the individual facility will dictate what kinds of donations are accepted. Much depends on the state, the region, and the specific operation, but in general you may find the following types of donations to be quite welcome at the VA:
- Phone Cards
- Lodging Discounts
- Local Transportation
- Family Canteen Books
- Restaurant Discounts
- Child-Care Information
- Movie Discounts
- Comfort Items
Other or alternate donations may be needed depending on circumstances; it’s best to talk with a volunteer coordinator about the must current and urgent needs in this area.
Can I Apply To Volunteer In Person?
At the time of this writing, the Department of Veterans Affairs encourages prospective applicants to contact the local VA medical center nearest you to arrange an appointment to tour the center and learn about the most current opportunities to volunteer.
Are Background Checks Required To Volunteer At A VA Facility?
Not all volunteer opportunities at the Department of Veterans Affairs will require a background check, but depending on the nature of the work, you may be asked to submit to a fingerprinting process alone or you could be asked to participating in a “full background check”. These requirements will vary depending on the VA center, the nature of your volunteer work, state law, and other variables.
The volunteer coordinator at your facility will tell you the specific requirements for each position you are considering.
Can I Volunteer At A VA Facility With Friends, Family, Or Co-Workers?
The Department of Veterans Affairs encourages group volunteer efforts. However, the needs of your chosen facility will determine how and when such participation is feasible. It is best to contact the local volunteer coordinator at the VA facility closest to you to learn what procedures are required based on the needs of that operation.
I Want To Work At The Department Of Veterans Affairs. Will volunteering give me any preference or advantage when applying for VA jobs?
Volunteer work at a VA facility looks great on a resume and VA volunteers definitely have an advantage in learning how VA processes and systems work. But the Department of Veterans Affairs does not give preferential hiring treatment to its volunteers.
Veterans who have federal hiring preference may exercise that preference to apply for a VA job, but in general applicants who volunteer at the VA are treated no differently than any other potential new hire.
Can I Volunteer With My Emotional Support Animal?
The VA official site makes a point to address this issue for all volunteers; any support animal accompanying a VA volunteer must be certified “by an official pet therapy certification program” according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. It will be necessary to make arrangements with your local VA volunteer coordinator in cases like these.
Where Are VA Facilities Located?
The Department of Veterans Affairs has an interactive online map and search tool that allows you to search by city, state, zip code, services offered, and the type of VA facility you seek. You will find a link to this page at the top navigation bar at VA.gov under “Find A VA Location”.
I Am A Student. Do I Volunteer At The VA Under The Voluntary Service Program Or Something Else?
Students are free to volunteer at the Department of Veterans Affairs via the VA Voluntary Service program, but there is also the VA Student Volunteer Program, which provides access not only to service opportunities but also a scholarship program.
The VA official site Student Volunteer page mentions the James H. Parke Memorial Youth Scholarship Award, which is designed to help student volunteers at VA medical centers. In this particular case, student volunteers are considered “liaisons with their communities” and provide “a valuable element of caring for Veterans”.
The VA Voluntary Service program offers experience in a healthcare environment, the ability to learn new skills, and eligibility to apply and/or be nominated for “multiple college scholarships”.
What Kind Of Volunteer Work Can I Do Under The Student Volunteer Program?
This type of volunteer work may not be as open-ended as the VA Voluntary Service option, but for those interested in careers in medicine or related fields, the opportunities can be quite valuable.
There is a list of fields where VA student volunteers may learn through their experience with the VA including but not necessarily limited to:
- Speech Pathology
- Outpatient/Ambulatory Care Activities
- Extended Care
- Occupational Therapy
- Information Technology
- Patient Escort
- Laboratory Medicine
- Medical Administration
- Physical Therapy
- Medical Illustration
- Social Work
- Food Service
How Do I Sign Up For The VA Student Volunteer Program?
You can apply in person or online. In person, start by calling the nearest VA facility in your area and tell them you are interested in learning more about the VA student volunteer program. You will be given instructions about applying in your area, plus information on the interview, orientation program and your first volunteer assignment.
To apply online, go to the Volunteer Or Donate page on the VA official site and fill out the form, but be sure to scroll down to the Comments block on the online form and add that you are specifically interested in the VA Student Volunteer Program and wish to be considered for it based on the scholarship opportunities (where applicable).
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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