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National Nursing Awards

VA nurses have been widely recognized for their instrumental work in initiating, developing, implementing, and monitoring the practices and policies that has made VA one of the world’s foremost authorities in patient safety and quality outcomes, evidenced by performance measures – an exceptional achievement by any assessment.

Secretary of VA's Awards for Excellence in Nursing & for Advancement in Nursing Programs

The VA Secretary's Awards in Nursing Excellence program, established in 1984, annually honors one Medical Center Director, Nurse Executive (NE), Registered Nurse (RN) in a staff nurse role and one in a non-staff nurse role, i.e. advanced practice nurse, nurse manager, instructor, etc., a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), and a Nursing Assistant (NA) or Healthcare Technician actively engaged in the care of patients at a VA Medical Center (VAMC). The recipients' contributions to the care of patients in any VA health care setting are patient-driven and demonstrate such excellence as to merit recognition from peers. This award is given only once to an individual.

The Secretary's Awards consists of three major areas: Excellence in Nursing, Advancement of Nursing Programs by a Medical Center or Health Care System Director, and Advancement of Nursing Programs by a Medical Center or Health Care System Nurse Executive. The award categories for Medical Center or Health Care System Director and Medical Center or Health Care System Nurse Executive were added in 1993 and 2003, respectively. The Health Care Technician (HCT) was included in the Nursing Assistant award category in 2006.

2024 Secretary Of Veterans Affairs’ Awards For Excellence In Nursing And For The Advancement Of Nursing Programs Winners

Registered Nurse/Staff Role: Lawrence Racsa MSN, RN, CCRN, CRRN, SCRN, CNRN, VA Maryland Health Care System, Baltimore, MD

Lawrence Racsa’s leadership truly shines at the VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) where his dedication, compassion, and nursing expertise make a tangible impact on patient care. Serving as an outstanding bedside nurse, he advocates tirelessly for patients, addressing safety concerns and educating both patients and their families. His leadership goes beyond patient care by spearheading projects and initiatives focused on enhancing quality care and streamlining unit processes, ultimately leading to outcomes and improved care for Veterans. His involvement in initiatives such as the “Get to Know Me Board” and the “VS30 Diffusion Project” showcases his dedication to excellence and innovation. He continuously enhances his clinical expertise and performance by participating in programs and professional associations to keep his colleagues informed about the latest evidence-based practices. Mr. Racsas’s unwavering commitment and dedication to patient advocacy, ethical practice, and effective resource management not only garnered him admiration as a leader but also solidified his position as an invaluable asset throughout VAMHCS.

Nurse/Expanded Role: Sandra Citty, Ph.D., APRN, RN, CNE, VA North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health Care System, Gainesville, FL

Sandra Citty’s remarkable contributions at the Gainesville Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Centers within the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System have greatly advanced the fields of nursing and Veteran healthcare. Her deep dedication stems from a desire to improve the well-being of Veterans, particularly by enhancing palliative and end-of-life care. This commitment is evident in her efforts to train VA staff leading to an improvement in providing compassionate care. Her innovative solutions to healthcare challenges, such as enhancing colorectal cancer screenings through new protocols, reflect her keen ability to merge research with practical application to improve patient outcomes. Similarly, her efforts to introduce ultraviolet light technology for disinfection across various units highlight her proactive stance on patient and staff safety. Beyond her clinical work, Ms. Citty’s dedication to education shines as she teaches and mentors upcoming nurses, alongside her notable scholarly work, amplifying her impact. Her efforts significantly enhance veteran health outcomes and foster a culture of excellence and innovation in nursing, showcasing her commitment to compassionate care, progressive thinking, and the nurturing of future nursing talent.

Licensed Practical Nurse: Robert Acevedo, LPN, Salisbury VA Health Care System, Salisbury, NC

Robert Acevedo, affectionately known as Rob, has been a beacon of innovation and dedication at the Salisbury VA Health Care System. Mr. Acevedo’s commitment to enhancing Veteran care has been evident in his eagerness to go beyond expectations, providing high-quality service to Veterans, colleagues, and leadership alike. His proactive approach in encouraging nurses towards education and efficient clinic processes has significantly improved Veteran experience. A standout moment in Rob’s career was his initiative to make dermatology education more inclusive, addressing a crucial gap by introducing materials that cater to Veterans with melanin-rich skin tones. This effort not only earned him a HeRO award but also led to a noticeable increase in patient engagement and satisfaction in their care process. His influence extends beyond clinical achievements; he is celebrated for his vibrant personality, leadership, and relentless pursuit of excellence in nursing, making him an invaluable asset to his team and a true advocate for Veteran care.

Nursing Assistant or Healthcare Technician Role: Josephine Loring, CNA, VA Portland Health Care System, Portland, OR

Josephine Loring has become a pillar of compassion and ingenuity in caring for Veterans facing severe mental health crises and neurocognitive decline at the VA Portland Healthcare System. Her approach blends empathy with a knack for creative problem-solving, making her a trusted figure among patients and colleagues. Josephine’s extraordinary care includes hours of bedside support, using personalized methods like reading, music, and massage to comfort and engage Veterans. Beyond her clinical excellence, Ms. Loring is deeply invested in her professional development, contributing as a Group Leader on 5C and excelling as a Prevention and Management of Disruptive Behavior trainer, significantly impacting patient and staff safety. Her dedication to advancing her nursing education while working full-time exemplifies her commitment to the nursing profession and her aspiration for continual growth and improvement. Her colleagues recognize her as a vital team player known for her reliability and ability to handle complex situations with grace and professionalism.

Nurse Executive: Carrie Hawkins, MS, RN, CCRN-K, NEA-BC, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, Bay Pines, FL

Carrie Hawkins has consistently exemplified exceptional leadership and unwavering dedication, leaving an indelible mark on the quality of care provided to Veterans in her role as Associate Director for Patient Care Services/Nurse Executive at the Bay Pines VA Health Care System. As the executive sponsor for their High Reliability Organization Journey, she spearheaded the implementation of safety practices, achieving full compliance across all tiers. From fostering a culture of excellence to spearheading innovative safety initiatives, her leadership is both dynamic and transformative. Under her guidance, nursing retention rates soared, and innovative recruitment strategies were implemented, including residency programs and career development initiatives. Ms. Hawkins’s relentless advocacy for evidence-based practice and mentorship programs underscores her steadfast commitment to cultivating the next generation of nursing professionals, ensuring a legacy of excellence that will endure for years to come. In the realm of patient care, she stands as a beacon of inspiration and visionary leadership, reshaping the landscape of healthcare delivery with her boundless passion and unwavering determination.

Medical Center or Health Care System Director: Walt Dannenberg, VA Long Beach Healthcare System, Long Beach, CA

Walt Dannenberg stands as a visionary leader at the helm of VA Long Beach Healthcare System (VALBHS), spearheading workplace engagement, continuous improvement, and accountability across the board. His implementation of the Daily Management System and Lean leadership philosophy has sparked a transformation in operations, fostering efficiency and innovation. Collaborating closely with nursing leadership and frontline nurses, he has been instrumental in promoting A3 thinking, reshaping problem-solving methodologies, and empowering nurses to lead impactful changes, resulting in unparalleled care and service excellence for Veterans. Under Mr. Dannenberg’s stewardship, VALBHS has embraced evidence-based practices as fundamental to nursing excellence. His advocacy for initiatives like Shared Governance has facilitated the establishment of over 40-unit practice councils and a system-wide practice council, facilitating the dissemination of ideas and best practices throughout the organization. His unwavering dedication to staff well-being, exemplified through initiatives like alternative work schedules and retention incentives, has solidified VALBHS’s standing as an employer of choice. Nationally lauded for his leadership in nursing care delivery, Mr. Dannenberg’s guidance has propelled VALBHS to unprecedented heights, earning prestigious recognitions such as the top performer in nursing home care.

Previous Years Winners