United States Department of Veterans Affairs
National Chaplain Center

What Do Chaplains Do?

The primary roles for Department of Veterans Affairs hospital chaplains are to:

• Ensure that Veteran patients (both inpatient and outpatient) receive appropriate clinical pastoral care as desired or requested by the Veteran;
• To ensure that hospital, domiciliary and nursing home patients’ constitutional right to free exercise of religion is protected. What this means is that it is the Veteran’s choice as to whether to meet with a chaplain or any religious person;
• To protect patients from having religion imposed on them. 
• It is always the Veteran’s choice.

On admission to the hospital a Veteran will be asked a simple screening question: “Are there religious practices or spiritual concerns you want the chaplain, your physician, and other health care team members to immediately know about?” Yes or No.  If your answer is “Yes” the chaplain will be notified to visit you.

If you are admitted to an area that is served by an interdisciplinary team of specialists. The chaplain will be a member of that team and ensure that your spiritual and/or pastoral care needs are met. Chaplains will generally visit you during your stay in the hospital.  If you do not desire to be visited you have only to indicate same.

Chaplain coverage is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, particularly in urgent situations or emergencies.

If you desire to contact a member of your local clergy, the chaplain can help you arrange that visit.

Chapels and/or meditation rooms are available at all medical center’s.  Religious or spiritual literature will be provided to you at your request.

Chaplains have a variety of roles as a member of the clinical team responsible for your care. Typical activities include:

Chaplain Supportive Spiritual Care

• Grief and loss care
• Risk Screening to identify factors that may affect your recovery
• Facilitation of spiritual issues related to tissue/organ donation
• Communication with your caregivers
• Facilitation of staff communication
• Conflict resolution among staff members, patients and family members
• Referral and linkage to internal and external resources
• Assistance with decision making and communication
• Staff and Family Support

Chaplains are Members of a Patient Care Team

• Participation in Medical Rounds and Patient Care Conferences
• Participation in Interdisciplinary Education
• Charting spiritual care interventions in medical charts

Chaplains Design and Lead Religious Ceremonies of Worship and Ritual

• Prayer, meditation and reading of holy texts
• Worship and observance of holy days
• Blessings and Sacraments to include the Anointing of the Sick
• Memorial Services and Funerals
• Holiday Observances

Chaplains Lead or Participate in Healthcare Ethics Programs

• Assisting patients and families in completing Advance Directives
• Clarifying value issues with patients, family members and staff within the medical center
• Participating in Ethics Committees and Institutional Review Boards
• Consulting with Staff and Patients about ethical concerns
• Pointing to human value aspects of institutional policies and behaviors
• Conducting in-service education

Chaplains Educate the Healthcare Team and the Community on Religious & Spiritual Issues

• Interpreting and analyzing multi-faith and multi-cultural traditions as they impact clinical services
• Making presentations concerning spirituality and health issues
• Train community religious representatives regarding the institutional procedures for effective visitation
• Conducting professional clinical education programs for seminarians, clergy and religious leaders
• Develop congregational health ministries
• Educating students in the health care professions regarding the interface of religion and spirituality with medical care

Chaplains act as Mediators and Reconcilers for those who Need a Voice in the Healthcare System

• As advocates or “cultural brokers” between Institutions and patients, family members, and staff
• Clarifying and Interpreting institutional policies to patients, clergy and religious organizations
• Offering patients, family members and staff an emotionally and spiritually ”safe” professional from whom they can seek counsel or guidance
• Representing community issues and concerns to the organization

Chaplains may Serve as Contact Persons to Arrange Assessment for the Appropriateness and Coordination of Complementary Therapies to include:

• Guided Imagery
• Relaxation Therapy
• Music Therapy
• Healing Touch

Chaplains and their Certifying Organizations Encourage and Support Research Activities to Assess the Effectiveness of Providing Spiritual Care

• Developing spiritual assessment and spiritual risk screening tools
• Developing tools for benchmarking productivity and staffing patterns that seek to increase patient and family satisfaction
• Conducting interdisciplinary research with investigators in allied fields publishing results in medical, psychological and chaplaincy journals
• Promoting research in spiritual care at national conventions