For those with a connection to the Veterans Health Administration, the VA CDA 2 can be a great way to propel your career. These awards are bigger than an NIH K, but come with unique requirements. Dr. Eric Tkaczyk recently received one of these grants, and he shares his tips for success below.

Benefits

A VA CDA gives you much more money than an NIH K, with some awards comparable in size to an R01. You receive five years’ salary at 75% effort with no salary cap. You’ll also receive enough money to pay for a postdoc, as well as bonus funding for filing patients.

At around 30% for most VA locations, the success rate is higher than many NIH institutes.

Drawbacks

The VA only gives you four opportunities to submit a CDA application in your life. Plan carefully.

You must receive approval of a letter of intent before you can apply.

You receive $30,000 for equipment, but it can take over a year to order and receive that equipment.

VA-specific Tips

Most, if not all, of the tips in our earlier series of posts for writing NIH K awards apply to VA CDAs. These are the quirks specific to the VA:

  • It’s a much bigger application than a K. Most come in around 200 pages, with an 18-page research plan.
  • Since you receive a lot more money, plan in advance how you’re going to use it. Dr. Tkaczyk recommends using it primarily for salaries and core resources.
  • Unlike the NIH, where you can (and should) call your potential Program Officer directly, at the VA you never speak directly to your PO. Always go through your local Chief of Staff. (That said, your PO might email you.)
  • Reviewers need multiple reminders that you can’t do full-time research during clinical training.
  • Reviewers can become suspicious that your mentors won’t stick around for the full five years; prophylax against this in their letters.
  • Given the increased length of the application, it’s more likely that reviewers will skim or miss things, so each page needs to stand alone.
  • Use plenty of metrics and accepted standards, and show you meet them.
  • If resubmitting, everything rides on the cover letter. Polish till it shines.
  • You must capitalize “Veteran”! There are other nuances to writing for the VA; use NIH RePORTER to find awardees on your campus and seek their advice.

Visit the VA’s site for career development awards for more information.

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