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Legislative Update
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By James Finley,
Associate Executive Director and Director of Public Policy

Four months ago, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the Military and Veterans Mental Health Interagency Task Force, to be co-chaired by the secretaries of three cabinet-level agencies: Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services. (Read the Executive Order.)

The task force includes representatives of each secretary and related agencies, as well as observers from the White House. The mission of the task force is to strengthen mental health services for military families and veterans and to take steps to meet the demand for current and anticipated services. 

AMHCA recently spoke before the task force about our concerns with federal administrative policies that block hiring of more mental health counselors in these agencies. Among our recommendations were:

  • Provide more training for VA staff so that they are aware that mental health counselors are eligible for hire. Human resource staff should be directed to reassess the extent to which vacant behavioral health positions have duties within the scope of practice of mental health counselors, and appropriate multidisciplinary positions should be opened to multiple disciplines.
  • Modify the VA’s CACREP degree standard for eligible mental health counselor positions by including a “grandparenting” avenue for experienced professionals similar to TRICARE’s certification standard for the profession. AMHCA urged the VA to offer those who were licensed initially on or before Dec. 31, 2015, to have an alternative route to VA certification. Alternative standards should include those who: a) hold at least a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling or a related degree from a regionally accredited academic institution; and b) have passed the NCMHCE, a national certification exam.
  • Make VA mental health counseling internships eligible for VA training stipends.
  • End a DOD hiring and promotions freeze for certain substance abuse and mental health counselor positions. Update and harmonize its job series for the profession to clarify that mental health counselors are eligible for hire in mental health and substance abuse treatment positions at DOD.
  • The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) should promulgate a government-wide position classification description for mental health counselors. Standardized and detailed requirements for these positions are needed to facilitate promotions and transfers among agencies for the profession.

AMHCA is currently following up with the interagency task force to support these recommendations to help make them a reality. We also anticipate bringing some of them to the attention of congressional leaders on VA and military matters. 

For the latest information on all of our congressional activities, follow our updates on AMHCA's website or on Facebook. Read AMHCA’s full recommendations to the task force.