Benefits of a Military Nursing Career
Nurses working for the U.S. military services earn commission, or pay, that is competitive with national standards. According to numerous pay websites, officers in the Nurse Corps earn a base pay from $58,000 to $103,000 annually - an average of $70,559 each year.
Each branch provides opportunities for nurses to earn additional bonus incentives, typically around $22,000 per year. If the nurse is just joining, or recommitting with a contract to serve, an additional bonus, called the accession bonus, is $20,000. Other military incentive-pay programs include hazardous duty pay ($150 per day) and imminent danger pay ($225 per day) which can significantly increase a nurse's annual income above their basic pay.
Nurses will also receive special incentive bonus money for moving forward in their career path. For example, nurses who become board certified in a specialty area earn an additional $6,000 bonus.
The ability and opportunity to travel the world is, for many nurses serving in the U.S. military, the biggest perk and benefit. Each branch offers opportunities to be stationed to serve at military installations across the globe. In addition to travel during service, being a member of the armed forces also offers the ability for nurses and their families to fly for free, on military planes, called hops or a space-available flight.
For nurses with leisure time, a hops flight can be a cheap and adventurous way to travel. However, the flights are not guaranteed so one may find themselves waiting at a base for several hours for the plane to be diverted or no seats available. Based on the unreliability of this mode of travel, it should be used with caution to avoid disciplinary measures for failing to return to post as scheduled.
Nurses who are new to the military and are single may choose to live in barracks, similar to college dormitory space with a room and a common area, as they acclimate to military life. Living on base is similar to living in town with grocery stores (Commissary), clothing and specialty stores (Exchange), gas stations, restaurants and other community services. Many bases offer other varieties of housing on base such as apartments or single-family homes for married nurses.
Officers, such as nurses, who qualify to live off base are given a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as part of their pay. BAH is provided monthly to the nurse and is calculated to account for the housing cost in the area, the rank of the nurse, and the number of dependents. For example, a nurse living in a more rural area such as Fort McCoy, WI will require less BAH than a nurse living near a base in an expensive urban area, such as Oceanside, CA. No matter where the installation, the military strives to ensure that nurses receive the allowance needed to cover all living situations.
Nurses serving with the U.S. Military receive 30 days of paid vacation each year. This is significant when compared to the 10 days the average nurse receives in the civilian sector. In addition to the paid time off, military personnel are also paid for an additional 10 holidays as observed by employees of the federal government.
Free Medical and Dental Care
Active-duty nurses receive free medical and dental care while serving in the military. In addition to the coverage, spouses and dependents may also enroll in military healthcare services for a small enrollment fee.
In the event of a catastrophic event, and to help protect their family's financial security, nurses serving in the Nurse Corps may select up to $400,00 in life insurance for a small monthly fee that is deducted from their pay.
Veterans Administration (VA) Programs
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides numerous benefits to military veterans and their families such as disability compensation, home loans and education assistance for those who qualify.
The GI Bill is a Department of Veterans Affairs education benefit offered to servicemembers and their families. The benefit was created to help with education and training goals and has several programs that depend on the servicemembers eligibility and duty status.
There are six programs currently being offered by the GI Bill. Each program is specifically designed for veterans and their families and consider special circumstances such as survivors of those who die in the line of duty. The benefit allows for several types of training including college degrees, vocational/technical school, on-the-job apprenticeships, certification and license reimbursement, national testing programs, flight training, correspondence training, work-study programs, tuition assistance and tutorial assistance.
For those leaving the military after 2013, there is no time limit to use the GI Bill benefit. This program is not considered financial aid as it is usually paid directly to the recipient, therefore most institutions require students to sign promissory notes or apply for actual financial aid to ensure all the costs are covered. Beneficiaries are able to use the benefit in pieces and can apply it to many levels of education. Pay is typically based on years of military service and how many college credits being pursued, up to a certain capped amount.
Thrift Savings Plan
The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a government-managed retirement plan that is similar to a 401(k)-savings plan offered on the civilian side. Nurses can elect to deduct money from their pretax pay and select from many investment plans. Monies in this fund is not taxed until withdrawn in retirement years.
Unlike most civilian jobs of current day, the military still offers a paid pension for those who serve at least 20 years of service. The military has two programs for retirement planning. The traditional defined benefit of monthly pay after serving at least 20 years and entering the military prior to January 1, 2018 and the new Blended Retirement System. This combines the defined benefit with matching contribution to the TSP account, and two bonus offers for continuation pay and a lump sum at retirement. Retirement funds are calculated on base pay near the time of departure from duty.
Low-Cost Healthcare Insurance
Qualified military members and their dependents may purchase TriCare health and dental care for a significantly reduced amount. For example, a family of three can purchase full-coverage health insurance with minimal deductible and out-of-pocket expenses for under $600 for the year. Depending on the area where the retiree resides, care is provided either at military installations or through private medical offices and facilities.
Individual State Benefits
Many states offer additional benefits to military retirees. For example, Alabama does not tax military retirement pay, and California offers college/university tuition waivers to qualified retired military and disabled veteran dependents. Another significant benefit for retirees is continued access to military establishments such as shopping tax-free at the Commissary or Exchange, and other amenities such as utilizing the golf course, lodging, theater, bowling alley, gym, etc. Many retirees enjoy staying in military hotels, resorts and RV parks across the globe.
Autonomy of Practice
Nurses serving in the Nurse Corps in any branch of service consistently report the benefit of autonomy of practice in their work. While there are many standard operating procedures (SOPs) for guiding work and practice, the military involves nurses to utilize evidenced-based practice solutions and processes. This allows nurses to work up to the highest level of their scope while incorporating them as a vital member of the healthcare team.
Whether a reserve or active duty nurse, comradery is built between nurses and their teams when pursuing missions or in the day-to-day care being provided for our servicemembers and their families. Many military nurses rate the life-long friendships across the globe as a tremendous benefit to serving in the Nurse Corps.
Training and Advancement
Unlike many civilian healthcare institutions, the Nurse Corps not only encourages advancement but offers numerous programs for training into advance practice nursing. Nurses can apply to become a Nurse Practitioner, a Clinical Nurse Specialist, a Nurse Midwife or a Nurse Anesthetist while serving their contracts. Not only is the schooling provided, those who qualify are their full commissioned salary while attending courses. The military has realized that by offering these advancement benefits, nurses are likely to continue a long and beneficial service career.
MORE MILITARY NURSING LIFE RELATED READING: