Defense Media Network

Veterans Affairs Nurses: Stories from the Front Lines of a Pandemic (Sponsored)

By Teresa Morris, Director of Advocacy & Government Relations, and Kelly D. Skinner, NOVA President


2020 is the year of the nurse and the midwife, a time to celebrate Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday (May 12), while recognizing Nurses worldwide for the dedication and care they provide their patients. Acknowledging the tireless work of our health care professionals on the front lines has never been more important or timely during this global pandemic.

VA Nurses provide a unique kind of care, one that includes a wholehealth model designed to provide personalized and proactive care that is both physical and psychological. They are trained to understand military culture and the service-related injuries and illnesses – both physical and mental – that often come with it. They are uniquely qualified to combat this “war against COVID-19.”


VA Nurses at VA Boston Healthcare System stand ready to serve Veterans and their community. This photo includes VA Nurses on a Spinal Cord Injury Unit. Opposite page: VA Nurses in the Community Living Center.

VA Nurses at VA Boston Healthcare System stand ready to serve Veterans and their community. This photo includes VA Nurses on a Spinal Cord Injury Unit. Opposite page: VA Nurses in the Community Living Center.


The almost 3,000 members of the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA) are among those providing care at the over 1,243 VA health care facilities within the U.S. and its territories. They are on the front lines during this pandemic and stand ready to take care of Veterans and their communities as VA activates its 4th Mission * in areas where there are a high number of COVID-19 cases. As this article went to print, VA hospitals in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan and Louisiana have opened beds to non-Veteran patients, and others may follow as cases surge in known “hot spots.” During a national emergency/health crisis, VHA facilities and their health care professionals provide a safety net for the nation’s hospitals – the following are some of the nurses who will be caring for Veterans and nonVeterans in communities around the country. These are their stories:

Cecilia McVey, MHA, RN, FAAN, is the Associate Director for Nursing and Patient Care Services at the VA Boston Healthcare System. “As a Nurse Executive of one of the largest VA health care systems, I am honored to care for our Veterans and staff for the past 50 years. We are living in unprecedented times and I am seeing staff go above and beyond despite the risk to themselves and their families to provide the best care anywhere! We are nurses that, unlike many other professions, dedicate ourselves to saving lives … in floods, tornados, blizzards, sunshine, and rain. 2020 is The Year of the Nurse and never has it been more important for the need for nursing care across the United States. It matters when we don’t go to work. I am privileged to work among the most amazing staff of nurses, physicians and others. It is because of all of them that our Veterans get the best in clinical care. We will always be there for our Veterans and our communities. We are VA STRONG!”

Kelly D. Skinner, DNP, APRN, NP-C, GNP-BC, CRRN, WCC, CFCN, the Spinal Cord Injury Clinical Specialist at the VA Boston Healthcare System, is tasked to help ensure staff competency and adequate staffing amid the coronavirus pandemic. As the VISN 1 Nurse Professional Standards Board (NPSB) Consultant and NPSB Chairperson at her facility, she is doing ad hoc local boards and started conducting nurse applicant screening interviews. Kelly admits that, “This is not business as usual. We all need to be collaborative and flexible during these unprecedented times to assure an adequate and highly qualified nursing workforce.”

Catherine Giasson, DNP, MHA, RN, NE-BC, is the Associate Nurse Executive at the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System. She is serving as the Chief of Operations for the Incident Command Center, which was activated in response to COVID19. The Incident Command Center Leadership Team is responsible for the operations of services system-wide and managing efforts to continue service levels. Catherine commented, “In my role, I am leading teams with others in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak. As the situation swiftly evolves, we are utilizing the published protocols and guidance to maintain health care services. The safety of the Veterans and staff is our top priority.”

Michelle Salazar, BSN, RN, has been busy at the Black Hills VA Health Care System as one of the Bed Management Solution (BMS) Coordinators and Transfer Coordinator. According to Michelle, “BMS is so important to VA during this pandemic as it allows the nation to coordinate bed availability to assist with patient overload within VA, and if needed, with civilian overcrowding.” Michelle is working diligently to manage bed availability to ensure the VA is ready to provide care and services as part of the VA’s 4th Mission.

Taryn-Janae Wilcox-Olson, MHS, RN, the Patient Safety and Risk Awareness Operations Manager at the VA Portland Healthcare System, was charged with screening patients and visitors at the entrances. She reported, “My department staff was asking everyone entering the facility if they had experienced fever, cough or shortness of breath within the last week. Having the designated screening stations helped to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

Laurel Ghose, MSN, RN, NE-BC, Acting Facility Telehealth Coordinator at the VA Boston Healthcare System, revealed how “Clinical Telehealth engages real-time interactive exchanges between patients and clinicians. During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual care makes continued care possible while maintaining appropriate distancing. Ongoing care is being provided via VA Video Connect (VVC). Both clinicians and Veterans are connecting for their routine and follow-up care by utilizing telehealth appointments. We are in the process of providing the ER, urgent care, and units with patients who have a potential or positive COVID-19 diagnosis with iPads. This has been expanded to long-term care and mental health.”

Molly Maloney, BSN, RN, a registered nurse on an acute spinal cord injury (SCI) unit, shared, “As this crisis continues to evolve, we are faced with a lot of questions and mostly concern for our already compromised patients. It is our responsibility to keep them safe. Therefore, we are working hard to minimize the risk of exposure and spreading the virus; doing our best to plan for the worst-case scenarios. As a team, we are willing to do what it takes to support one another, and first and foremost provide the best care to our Veterans.”


VA Nurses at VA Boston Healthcare System stand ready to serve Veterans and their community. This photo includes VA Nurses in the Community Living Center.

VA Nurses at VA Boston Healthcare System stand ready to serve Veterans and their community. This photo includes VA Nurses in the Community Living Center.


Danielle Newman, MSN, RN, is a Clinical Resource Nurse for Specialty and Outpatient Clinics. She described how “It is challenging and at times frightening, but through it all there is hope for health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. The lack of proper equipment, particularly the N95 masks, gowns, gloves and sanitizer, could be a real possibility. Another hurdle is the protocols and CDC guidance changing minute to minute and the increasing patient ratios. COVID-19 has turned American hospitals into a ‘combat zone.’ Our core values focus our minds on our mission of caring and thereby guide our actions toward service to others. I was called to serve, I was called to be a nurse – not to look at the problem from far away, but to be down in the trenches helping people fight the fight. And that is where I plan on staying until we get through this together.”

Let us all pause as we move through the next weeks and months and be reminded of Florence Nightingale and her call to service – service that she passed on to all Nurses, empowering them to care for the sick and wounded during times of global crisis. We owe all of them our thanks and gratitude.

The Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA) is a professional membership organization for nurses employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

For more about NOVA, visit their website:

For VA COVID-19 information:


This story originally appears in Veterans Affairs & Military Medicine OUTLOOK.

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