United States Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Health Care Upstate New York - VISN 2

Chaplain Frequently Asked Questions

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Question How can a veteran find the denominational affiliation of VA Chaplains?

Answer Chaplain Contacts and Locations page contains a listing of all Chaplains at the VA Health Care Network Upstate New York as well as Chapel Locations. The list also identifies the denomination of each chaplain. An orientation brochure identifying the chaplains' faith groups is available at each medical center in the Network. These are available to patients following admission or upon request. You can always ask the chaplains what denomination they represent. Veterans Affairs attempts to maintain a broad representation of denominations and faith traditions within its chaplain corps. It is not possible to have each denomination or faith group represented at every facility. If you wish to be contacted by a member of the clergy of your denomination or faith, the chaplain at your medical center will be happy to assist you in contacting such a representative, with your permission.
Question Do VA Chaplains serve local churches or parishes?

Answer Full-time chaplains are prohibited from serving local churches and parishes as pastors. Their primary focus in ministry is to the hospitalized veteran and those served in residential and home based care programs supported by VA. Less-than-full-time and contract chaplains are allowed to serve in community religious organizations as pastors. All chaplains within VA are prohibited from recruiting into their individual faith group, denomination or church and from attempting to proselytize (i.e. – “to attempt to influence or change an individual’s beliefs about religion or religious expression”. VHA Handbook 1111.02). Chaplains assist veterans to clarify the veterans' desire for religious involvement and assist in strengthening veterans' ties with religious resources in the veterans' community as the patient desires. Chaplains as well as all VA employees are prohibited from evangelizing or trying to convert others to their beliefs.
Question Can a VA Chaplain contact my pastor/priest?

Answer With your permission, the chaplain at your medical center will be happy to assist you in contacting your faith group leader, or a member of the clergy of your denomination or faith.
Question Who does a veteran/family see about their complaints, questions, or concerns?

Answer Patient complaints are normally handled by the local medical center Patient Representative. The chaplain may occasionally assist in referrals to either the Patient Representative or proper staff member. Chaplains can assist with referrals for religious and spiritual resources in the community such as local clergy, congregations and agencies.
Question Are there funds available for veterans to purchase items such as a meal, cup of coffee, or personal items?

Answer Funds are provided through Social Workers (Indigent Patient Program), Homeless Veterans Assistance, and Voluntary Services. Canteen books may be available on a limited basis. Chaplains are prohibited from handing cash to patients.
Question Can a local church group use the VA Chapel for prayer or worship?

Answer Medical Center Director approval is required for any off-station group to utilize VA facilities. More to the point would be a question regarding whether a local church, choir or prayer group can provide veterans worship services, bible studies, or inspirational music programs. Any such activity must be coordinated with the facility chaplain and be provided under the authority and guidance of the chaplain service. It should also be coordinated with the local VA Voluntary Service.
Question Are VA Chaplains available for VSO speaking engagements and local worship services in the community?

Answer VA Chaplains may be available to speak at Veterans Service Organizations, fraternal groups and other organizations that are interested in serving the hospitalized veteran, on a case by case basis. VA Chaplains are not generally available for pulpit supply, though pulpit exchanges can be arranged.
Question Do Chaplains provide marriage counseling, to include community referrals?

Answer Chaplains work with family members on a wide range of concerns including marital and family issues (e.g., discord, estrangement, or reconciliation) and bereavement/grief. In most instances such counseling is supportive in nature with the objective to assist the family member to successfully enter the care of a counselor in their community. In some cases, counselors working in Behavioral Health VA Care may be able to assist a veteran with relationship counseling.
Question Do Chaplains provide pre-marital counseling?

Answer Chaplains because of their training have skills for pre-marital counseling and may provide counseling to Veterans. However, unless the chaplain is going to conduct the wedding ceremony, a veteran would be expected to seek counseling from their place of worship and according to their tradition and rights of ceremony.
Question What guidelines are there regarding religious practice in the workplace?

Answer Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace were issued by the President on August 14, 1997. In general, the government should allow employees to express their religious beliefs in the federal workplace to the same extent that it allows them to express other non-work-related beliefs. So, if the facility allows employees to use facilities on their own time for recreational or social purposes, it should allow them to use the facilities for religious meetings also. Caveat: The permission given by the facility must not give the impression to a reasonable observer that this is government endorsement of religion. Individuals may express religion in their private workspace, not open to the public, by putting up a poster or keeping a religious book on their desk. However, such items in a public area might be construed as government endorsement of religion.
Question Can we have prayer groups on the wards for patients whom would like to participate?

Answer Prayer groups conducted for patients are the responsibility of the medical center chaplains. They may also be coordinated by faith group representatives under the supervision of the chaplain staff when a chaplain of that faith is not generally available. Staff should not be leading prayer or Bible study groups for the patients under their care. Occasionally, patients have chosen to get together informally for prayer and bible study. The Chaplain Service may provide study guides, Bibles, or other religious materials, as may be appropriate.

There is no objection to the practice of patient-led prayer groups so long as:
  1. Participation is truly voluntary.
  2. The patient(s) involved are not soliciting members for their faith group or church or attempting to proselytize (see question 2 for correct VA definition of "proselytize".)

An employee runs the risk of being accused of soliciting for their particular faith group or church should they engage in running these sorts of groups. Soliciting of any sort, religious or otherwise, is prohibited by Federal regulation.
Question Can we have prayer groups for staff whom would like to participate?

Answer There are no regulations that would prohibit staff from holding prayer groups among themselves. Any restrictions would be related to performance of required duties (e.g., a nurse providing the only clinical coverage for a unit could not leave the unit without compromising patient safety). Supervisors should make reasonable accommodation for employee religious practices. Typical examples include: providing a room for employees to observe daily prayers; permitting some flexibility in leave schedules for religious holidays, etc. "Reasonable accommodation" does not grant an absolute right to religious expression.

There is no objection to the practice of prayer groups for staff so long as:
  1. participation is voluntary
  2. the employee(s) involved are not soliciting members for their faith group or church
  3. such groups do not interfere with the employees’ performance of duties
Question Are we allowed to hang religious posters, etc. on the wards?

Answer This question frequently comes up during the Christmas Holidays. The same general rules apply year-round. Under General Counsel rulings an employee can have religious articles in their personal work area (e.g., a Bible or Koran sitting on their desk, a small picture or icon displayed, etc.). The religious article should not be intrusive or be displayed in a common area. Larger religious displays in common areas are generally prohibited (e.g., a Nativity display could be placed in a chapel but not in a reception area; a small menorah could be placed on an employee's desk, but not placed on the front lawn of the Medical Center. Employees should remember that the question of religious belief can create a hostile work environment for someone else if they do not share those beliefs.