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Patient Care Services

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National VA Chaplain Service

What Do Chaplains Do?

VA Chaplains have many roles: comfort, support, lead, advocate, counsel, mediate and educate They are available for both happy and difficult times. They put the patient and the family members first.


Primary Role of VA Chaplains:

  • Listen to you and your family, respecting what you have been through
  • Provide support to you and your family
  • Help with decision-making
  • Support difficult end-of-life decisions (hospice care)
  • Help with advance directives. These are legal forms giving directions about your wishes for your health care. They are used if you become unable to make decisions for yourself due to a medical condition. You can learn more about advance care planning at the following VA website:
  • Support and work with you to answer tough questions
  • Perform religion-specific ceremonies or services, such as meditation, prayer, reading holy texts, observance of holy days, etc.
  • Provide grief support. See the Whole Health handout “Coping with Grief Following a Death (PDF)” for more information
  • Assist with ethical concerns
  • Communicate between the care team, you, and family members
  • Assist with discharge planning and connect you with support, such as clergy members in your community
  • Help honor the work you have done for your country
  • Help with feelings of guilt and self-forgiveness. After leaving active duty, some people feel guilty about things they had to do during their military service. This may include things they would not have done during peacetime.
  • Help you connect or reconnect with God or a higher power

Chaplain coverage is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, particularly in urgent situations or emergencies. Every VA Medical Center (VAMC) has a chapel available for use by all Veterans and their families that represent a broad spectrum of religious traditions. The VA chapel can be used for services, prayer, meditation and quiet contemplation.

Who should see a chaplain?

Anyone can benefit from seeing a chaplain. Meeting with a chaplain is entirely your decision. Decide what feels best for you. If you are admitted to a VA hospital, you should be asked a screening question: “Are there religious practices or spiritual concerns you want the chaplain, your physician, and other health care team members to immediately know about?” If your answer “yes,” a chaplain will meet with you.  If you answer “no” or are just having a routine visit, you can ask to meet with a chaplain at any time.  It is always the Veteran's choice.

VA Chaplain Activities Include:

Supportive Spiritual Care:

  • Grief and loss care (bereavement counseling)
  • Risk Screening to identify factors that may affect your recovery
  • Facilitation of spiritual issues related to tissue/organ donation
  • Communication with your caregivers
  • Facilitation of staff communication
  • Conflict resolution among staff members, patients and family members
  • Referral and linkage to internal and external resources
  • Assistance with decision making and communication
  • Staff and Family Support

Members of a Patient Care Team:

  • Serve as part of a patient care team as they make regular rounds to meet with individuals and participate in patient-care conferences alongside nurses and social workers.
  • Provide extended and intensive pastoral counseling as an integral part of the treatment program with patients facing complex, ethical, moral, and spiritual issues
  • Participation in Medical Rounds and Patient Care Conferences
  • Participation in Interdisciplinary Education
  • Charting spiritual care interventions in medical charts

Design/Lead Religious Ceremonies of Worship and Ritual:

  • Prayer, meditation and reading of holy texts
  • Worship and observance of holy days
  • Blessings and Sacraments to include the Anointing of the Sick
  • Memorial Services and Funerals
  • Holiday Observances

Lead/Participate in Healthcare Ethics Programs:

  • Assisting patients and families in completing Advance Directives
  • Clarifying value issues with patients, family members and staff within the medical center
  • Participating in Ethics Committees and Institutional Review Boards
  • Consulting with Staff and Patients about ethical concerns
  • Pointing to human value aspects of institutional policies and behaviors
  • Palliative Care
  • Conducting in-service education

Educate the Healthcare Team and the Community on Religious & Spiritual Issues:

  • Interpreting and analyzing multi-faith and multi-cultural traditions as they impact clinical services
  • Making presentations concerning spirituality and health issues
  • Train community religious representatives regarding the institutional procedures for effective visitation
  • Conducting professional clinical education programs for seminarians, clergy and religious leaders
  • Develop congregational health ministries
  • Educating students in the health care professions regarding the interface of religion and spirituality with medical care

Act as Mediators and Reconcilers for those who Need a Voice in the Healthcare System:

  • As advocates or “cultural brokers” between Institutions and patients, family members, and staff
  • Clarifying and Interpreting institutional policies to patients, clergy and religious organizations
  • Offering patients, family members and staff an emotionally and spiritually "safe" professional from whom they can seek counsel or guidance
  • Representing community issues and concerns to the organization

Serve as Contact Persons to Arrange Assessment for the Appropriateness and Coordination of Complementary Therapies to include:

  • Guided Imagery
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Music Therapy
  • Healing Touch

Encourage and Support Research Activities to Assess the Effectiveness of Providing Spiritual Care

  • Developing spiritual assessment and spiritual risk screening tools
  • Developing tools for benchmarking productivity and staffing patterns that seek to increase patient and family satisfaction
  • Conducting interdisciplinary research with investigators in allied fields publishing results in medical, psychological and chaplaincy journals
  • Promoting research in spiritual care at national conventions