The role of chaplains in providing pastoral and emotional support to service members in the United States military has been widely recognized. Over the years, the military has established certain qualifications that must be met before someone can serve as an army chaplain. To become an army chaplain, an individual must have a bachelor’s degree, an M.Div. ordination, and endorsement by their denomination, as well as a minimum of two years of parish experience. These qualifications ensure that chaplains have the necessary education and experience to provide pastoral care to service members. However, recent changes in the hiring requirements for VA chaplains have caused concern among some in the chaplaincy community.
Under the current VA regulations, an applicant must have completed at least four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in a program accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) or the Institute for Clinical Pastoral Training (ICPT) and be board certified by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification Inc. (BCCI is an affiliate of the Association of Professional Chaplains). While board certification is important in ensuring that chaplains have received proper education and training, BCCI certification is not equivalent to state licensing and is not equated as such.
One of the biggest issues with the new hiring requirements is that they serve to franchise only CPE providers recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE). This means that men and women, many of whom have served in combat and have completed their CPE training with other reputable providers of CPE, like the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP), are effectively locked out of VA chaplaincy positions. This represents a significant problem, as it limits employment opportunities for chaplains within VA healthcare settings and undermines the principles of diversity and inclusivity that are at the core of chaplaincy.
The changes in the hiring requirements for VA chaplains have had a significant impact on the chaplaincy community. By only recognizing CPE providers accredited by the USDE, the VA is potentially limiting the number of qualified chaplains who can provide pastoral and emotional support to veterans, including those who have served in combat and have completed their CPE training with long-established providers like CPSP. The exclusion of such highly qualified chaplains not only undermines diversity and inclusivity but also hinders the VA’s ability to provide the best possible care to our nation’s veterans.
The recent changes in the VA’s hiring requirements for chaplains have emphasized the need for the agency to reassess how it recognizes CPE providers. In order to create a level playing field for all qualified chaplains, the VA must acknowledge the value of other well-respected CPE providers beyond ACPE and guarantee that every eligible candidate has equal access to chaplaincy positions. An inclusive approach would enhance the diversity and inclusivity of the VA’s chaplaincy program to make sure that veterans receive the highest quality of pastoral and emotional support from the most qualified chaplains available, particularly those who have served in combat. This is not just a moral obligation but also a necessary step to honor the sacrifices and services of our nation’s veterans.
The bottom line is that the VA must take action to address the concerns raised by recent changes in hiring requirements for chaplains. It is time for the VA to recognize the value of all reputable providers of CPE to make sure that all qualified candidates have an equal opportunity to serve as chaplains within VA healthcare settings. This is not only the right thing to do, but it is also essential for the VA to fulfill its commitment to providing the highest quality care to our nation’s veterans- Geroge Hull