The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the largest, most advanced healthcare systems in the United States. Today’s VA consists of more than 153 medical centers, 909 ambulatory and community-based outpatient clinics, and 135 nursing homes, all of which employ physical therapist assistants who serve as crucial members of the VA’s patient care teams.
VA physical therapist assistants—under the direct guidance and supervision of physical therapists—contribute directly to patient care, applying the latest advances in rehabilitative treatments as to create the best patient care plans. Physical therapist assistants in the VA treat everyone from injured, active duty military personnel to aging veterans.
Physical therapist assistants at the VA have the opportunity to work under physical therapists who guide student clinical residences, conduct national and international continuing education courses, and conduct ongoing research in conjunction with some of the nation’s top universities.
The Department of Veterans Affairs:
- Employs over 1,500 physical therapists
- Provides inpatient care to about 650,000 veterans and manages more than 75 million outpatient visits each year through its medical centers and supporting facilities
- Has facilities in all 50 states, Washington D.C, and U.S. territories
- Works with the Department of Defense to provide special care programs to active duty military personnel with spinal cord injuries, traumatic head injuries, and amputations
- Provides medical care backup to military hospitals and active service members and their families during medical emergencies
- Is a nationally recognized leader in prosthetics research and development through the Prevention of Amputation for Veterans Everywhere (PAVE) program
- Since 2003, has served more than 31,000 servicemen and women who have been seriously injured in Iraq, many of whom have wounds like brain trauma, paralysis, burns, and eye damage
Education and Training Requirements for PTAs Working in VA Hospitals
Physical therapist assistants working for the VA enjoy license mobility. Upon completing a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)-approved physical therapist assisting associate degree program, passing the PTA National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), and achieving state licensure through any U.S. state, commonwealth, or territory, VA physical therapist assistants may pursue a VA physical therapist assisting job and subsequently transfer to any location without achieving another state license.
In other words, VA physical therapist assistants may practice at any VA medical facility, regardless of location, provided they possess a current and unrestricted license to practice physical therapist assisting issued by any state.
Physical therapist assistants working for the VA may be found in any number of settings, including:
- Inpatient acute care
- Inpatient/outpatient rehabilitation programs
- Spinal cord injury centers
- Geriatric/extended care settings
- Poly-trauma centers
- Amputation centers
They may also serve as key members of home-based patient care, podiatry teams, palliative care teams, amputee teams, brain injury teams, geriatric teams, and primary care practice teams.
Because of the sheer size of the federal government and the number of veterans and active military personnel requiring physical therapy services, the APTA has a Federal Physical Therapy Section that incorporates all physical therapists and physical therapist assistants who work for the federal government. This includes:
- Veterans Health Administration
- Department of Defense Services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines)
- Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. Public Health Service, Indian Health Service, Bureau of Prisons, Coast Guard, etc.)
The Federal Therapy Section allows physical therapist assistant members to take advantage of continuing education courses and advance in their profession. Just a few of these courses include:
- Symmetry with limb loss; maximizing function after amputation
- Optimizing clinical efficiency and improving patient outcome
- Blast injuries: rehab management, exercise, and fitness considerations
- Advanced roles of physical therapy in spinal cord injury
- Validation of the assessment of military multitasking performance for mild traumatic brain injuries
The National VA Physical Therapy Advisory Council partners with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) to advocate for the use of physical therapy for veterans, giving PTAs an opportunity to make a difference in their field.