AMHCA/ACA Alert: Senate Committee Approves Inclusion of Counselors in VA Programs

 

 

The American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) and the American Counseling Association (ACA) are pleased to announce that a provision to recognize licensed mental health counselors in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs was approved by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on September 15, 2005.

 

The provision, which would allow mental health counselors to be eligible for better paying jobs with a greater potential for promotion at the VA, was included in S. 1182, the “Veterans Health Care Act of 2005,” sponsored by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), chairman of the Committee. The legislation also requires the VA to make additional improvements in mental health services, including care for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In order to make these improvements, the legislation authorizes $95 million in spending for each of fiscal years 2006 and 2007.

 

Among other provisions included in the bill, S. 1182 would allow veterans who live in the area impacted by Hurricane Katrina to receive free health care until January 31, 2006. Because of these provisions, we are hopeful that the legislation will be considered by the full Senate in the near future.

 

Currently, the VA cannot hire mental health counselors at the pay grade that clinical social workers can be hired. Psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers fill most supervisory positions at the Department’s hospitals and outpatient clinics. The VA is the largest employer of clinical social workers in the United States and because social workers are in abundant supply, the VA on a full-time basis employs very few mental health counselors. In addition, social workers on staff develop many of the new positions in mental health services, and therefore the agency is most likely to hire social workers first. Psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers are specifically named in VA statutes.

 

In 2003, the Advisory Committee on the Readjustment of Veterans, established by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, published recommendations calling for the expansion of family counseling by qualified providers. These recommendations were not only suggested by the Readjustment Advisory Committee, but were formally concurred upon by the VA.

 

AMHCA and ACA have also met with staff of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to make a similar request to allow the VA to add mental health counselors to the list of health providers that are eligible to be appointed positions to the VA. At this time, it is unclear as to when the House Committee will act on similar legislation.

 

ACTION NEEDED: It is vital that counselors contact their Senators to urge support of S. 1182 when it reaches the floor of the Senate for a vote. The House may also address the issue in the near future.

 

TARGET: All U.S. Senators and Representatives. The U.S. Capitol Switchboard can connect you to your Senator’s and Representative’s offices by calling 202-224-3121. If you do not know the name of your Senators, visit http://www.senate.gov and choose your state. To find your Representative, go to http://www.house.gov.

 

SUGGESTED MESSAGE TO SENATORS: “As a constituent, I am calling to ask the Senator support S. 1182, the Veterans’ Health Care Act of 2005, when it is considered on the Senate floor. This legislation includes a provision to add licensed mental health counselors to the list of providers who are eligible to be appointed to positions in the Veterans’ Health Administration (VHA). This issue is especially important, given the excessive number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with symptoms of mental illness.”

 

SUGGESTED MESSAGE TO REPRESENTATIVES: “As a constituent, I am calling to ask the Representative to support adding licensed mental health counselors to the list of providers eligible to be hired by the Veterans Health Administration.  This issue is especially important, given the excessive number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with symptoms of mental illness.”

 

If you need additional information, please contact Beth Powell at AMHCA at 800-326-2642, ext. 105 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Brian Altman with ACA at 800-347-6647, ext. 242 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Share
You are here: Home News & Conferences Legislative Alerts AMHCA/ACA Alert: Senate Committee Approves Inclusion of Counselors in VA Programs