For Debbie Sommer, being a VA nurse has paid off, both personally and professionally.

Throughout nursing school, Sommer always knew she wanted to work at VA. She happily realized that goal in 1999, when the Miami VA Healthcare System hired her as a registered nurse (RN) for its spinal cord injury (SCI) unit. With a National Nursing Education Initiative (NNEI) scholarship and mentor support from VA, Sommer, who graduated with an associate’s degree in nursing, set out to advance her education and career. Two NNEI scholarships later, she had earned a Master of Science in nursing and now works as chief nurse for operations at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

At VA, we know that helping employees advance their education and careers not only benefits them personally and professionally but also enhances the exceptional care we provide the nation’s Veterans. That’s why we have education support programs like NNEI and encourage employees to take advantage of them. After a year as a VA employee, Sommer qualified for an NNEI scholarship, with which she earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN).

Much-needed support

“As a single mother with a new nursing career, this NNEI scholarship alleviated the financial stress and afforded me the opportunity to advance my clinical knowledge and obtain a BSN,” said Sommer. “While attending school, VA assigned me a mentor, who coached me along the way.”

Through the NNEI scholarship program, RNs who work part-time or full-time at VA for at least one year can receive up to $41,572 tax free toward the cost of higher education, including tuition, registration fees and books. In return, scholarship recipients agree to work in a VA career for one to three years.

After serving as an SCI nurse, home-based primary care nurse and home telehealth nurse, Sommer accepted a position as a quality nurse management specialist. While in this role, she applied for and received a second NNEI scholarship, which she used to earn her master’s degree in nursing administration.

In addition to being continuously employed at VA for one year before applying, NNEI scholarship applicants must:

Following positions as a primary care case manager and nurse manager, Sommer accepted her current role as chief nurse. Having the flexibility to relocate increased her opportunities for career advancement, and she appreciates VA’s investment in her career.

“My NNEI scholarship showed VA believed in me by investing in my professional development,” she said. “My VA mentors provided insight and helped me grow professionally. I am grateful to VA and the NNEI scholarship program for helping me advance my career and providing me with the tools to deliver the best care to our Veterans.”

Work at VA

Financial support and professional guidance to advance your career helps you fulfill the noble mission of caring for our nation’s Veterans. Only VA can offer you that. Start planning your next career move today at

Share this story

Published on Apr. 6, 2021

Estimated reading time is 2.8 min.

Views to date: 1,032

More Stories

  • Join our recruiters for three events this October and learn what a career at VA has to offer.

  • With investments in a diverse workforce and leadership, our sense of inclusion equals innovation for the Veterans we serve.

  • “Talk About It Tuesday” guests Lindsay Marth and F. Keith Bradley share their perspectives on what it means to come to VA and support Veterans.