U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Indian Health Service: The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives
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Questions about this site? Contact Barbara Cohn

Personnel Systems

There are three personnel systems used in the IHS and tribal facilities. Two systems provide federal benefits; the commissioned corps and civil service. The other system is direct tribal hire and benefits are those provided by the individual tribes. Of the approximately 125 optometrists providing optometric care for AI/AN, most are commissioned corps officers, a few are civil service with a growing number hired directly by the individual tribes as they take over programs. Personnel options available vary with the location. Ask about personnel system options when inquiring about each job.

Commissioned Corps

The commissioned corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States government.

Eligibility Requirements

  • Must be a U.S. Citizen;
  • Must be under 44 years of age;
  • Must be in good physical health;
  • Must have graduated from an accredited school of optometry;
  • Must be licensed as an optometrist in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia (There is an exception for new graduates who have one year post graduation to obtain their licensure, if allowed by the credentialing policy of the hiring facility.).


  • Non-contributory pension; receive 50% of base pay with retirement at 20 years, 75% of base pay with retirement at 30 years;
  • Ability to retire after 20 years of service regardless of age;
  • Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) a retirement savings and investment plan.  Tax-deferred contributions, maximum for 2010 is $16,500;
  • 30 vacation days annually, plus 10 federal holidays;
  • Sick leave granted as needed, including 6 weeks of maternity leave;
  • Non-contributory comprehensive health for officer and dependents;
  • Non-contributory dental care for officer, contributory dental plan for dependents;
  • Social Security Benefits;
  • Non-taxable housing allowance, variable housing and subsistence allowance, BAH and BAS (see link under base pay salary);
  • Moving expenses paid for officer and dependents;
  • VA benefits, after two years service, including no down payment home mortgages and educational benefits (the GI Bill must be selected or declined when called to duty and must be used within ten years of separation);
  • Commissary privileges, PX privileges and space-available transportation at military installations;
  • Unique opportunities to deploy during times of national health crises and for humanitarian-assistance missions on U.S. Navy hospital ships.


  • Base Pay; optometrist typically begin their career as an O-3; http://www.usphs.gov/calculator/   
  • Additional pay of $100 per month Optometry Special Pay;
  • Board Certification Pay for those with Academy Fellowship; starting at $2,000 annually increasing up to $5,000 with years of credible service;
  • Optometry Retention Special Pay (OSRP), eligible after completion of one year of service and completion of any initial active-duty service obligation.  Additional OBLIGATION for:  12 MONTHS payable in the amount of $6,000.  24 MONTHS payable in the amount of $7,000 per year.  36 MONTHS payable in the amount of $8,000 per year;
    • Loan Repayment Program (LRP) - Participants may receive up to $20,000/year in exchange for signing a 2-year service contract with an eligible Indian health program.  The LRP also will pay an additional 20 percent annually to the Internal Revenue Service to offset the increased tax liability incurred by the participant. Participants who wish to extend their participation in the LRP for an additional year(s) may request an extension.

The average time from application to award for an optometry applicant is 1.5 years.

How to Apply for the Commissioned Corps

  • Call (800) 279-1605 and ask for an active duty application packet or preferably download the application at http://www.usphs.gov/questionsanswers/applying.aspx ;
  • Since the process is lengthy, apply at least three to six months in advance of your availability date.  They will commission you shortly after you obtain a job offer if your USPHS application is ready.
  • Don't forget that you must submit your resume, KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities statements) and other area specific documentation to the IHS site and area office.

Civil Service

Civil service is the United States government civilian personnel system.

Eligibility Requirements

  • Must be in good physical health,
  • Must have graduated from an accredited school of optometry,
  • Must be licensed as an optometrist in one of the 50 states or District of Columbia,
  • Contributory retirement and health program,
  • Pension consists of three parts:
    • Government contributes 1% of salary,
    • Social Security, and
    • a Keogh Plan whereby the employee can contribute a percentage of pre-tax salary with the government increasing their 1% contribution matching up to 5%
  • Portable Pension,
  • Ability to retire at age 57 or greater after 30 years, at age 60 with 20 years and age 62 with 5 years of service,
  • 13, 20 or 26 days vacation days, depending on years of service, plus 10 federal holidays; 13 sick days per year,
  • Choice of contributory medical plans.
  • Moving expenses paid.

How to Apply for Civil Service Positions

  • Obtain a copy of the job announcement and an application from the personnel office advertising the position and submit written responses to the information requested along with a copy of your resume to the servicing personnel office. Speak with the selecting official (usually the supervisor of the position) and the Area Chief Optometrist to learn more about the position.

Direct Tribal Hire

Benefits are offered by the tribe and vary from tribe to tribe. Apply directly to the tribe offering the position.

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