Update: VA Under Pressure to Improve Mental Health Treatment Access
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) announced that it was adding Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists to its workforce as part of the hiring of an additional 1,900 mental health staff nationwide that VA announced last week. Included in the announcement was this quote from VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, “The addition of these two mental health professions is an important part of VA’s mission to expand access to mental health services”. The American Counseling Association agrees with that statement, but it looks upon this announcement with a great deal of caution; to date, the VA has hired only a handful of LPCs. The VA’s failure to adequately provide mental health care to veterans–highlighted by a new report from the VA Inspector General’s office–was the focus of a hearing held yesterday by the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, and at the hearing, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) told the VA that among other steps, he wanted to see the VA begin hiring more licensed professional counselors.
Over six years ago, Congress passed the “Veterans Benefits, Healthcare, and Information Technology Act of 2006” (P.L. 109-461) which recognized Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors (LPMHCs) to work and provide treatment to veterans in the VA as full-fledged mental health clinicians. Over a year and a half ago, the VA adopted an occupational standard for the hiring of LPMHCs.
From the perspective of counselors, very little has happened since the law was enacted and the standards were adopted. ACA has not seen any evidence that the VA is hiring significant numbers of LPMHCs at VA facilities. A review of the job postings on USAjobs.gov for this calendar year shows that, on average, fewer than 1 (one) LPMHC position is advertised in a given week, while dozens of clinical social workers positions are advertised. LPCs meet education, training, examination, experience, and ethical requirements on par with those of clinical social workers. Veterans clearly need better access to mental health treatment–as shown by the recent report by the VA Office of the Inspector General on waiting times for initial mental health evaluations–and there are thousands upon thousands of fully-licensed counselors ready and willing to help provide urgently needed care. Many of these counselors are veterans themselves, and yet they cannot find work with the VA providing services to their fellow veterans.
The VA’s recent statement regarding the hiring of counselors gives us hope. However, other statements by the VA made just last week–indicating that they do not see a “national need” to establish traineeship positions for LPMCs, and implying that they do not consider LPMHCs to be mental health clinicians–give cause for skepticism. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words. ACA will continue working with Congress, other concerned organizations, and veterans service organizations to ensure that the VA finally begins recognizing the counseling profession.
ACA is continuing to collect anecdotal evidence of counselors’ experience in attempting to find mental health clinician positions at VA facilities. Please share any experiences you have on this issue with Art Terrazas of ACA’s public policy staff, at email@example.com.
You can read the VA’s press release by clicking here.