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Sen. Tester intoduces ACA-endorsed bill at VA hearing

November 1, 2013


(Photo:Flickr/Senate Democrats)

Among the bills presented at the Oct. 30 Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing was the Rural Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. The bill, also known as S.1155, was partially crafted by the American Counseling Association and would “provide for advance appropriations for certain information technology accounts of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to include mental health professionals in training programs of the Department, and for other purposes.”

“Too many veterans in rural areas go untreated,” said Sen. Jon Tester, (D-MT), the bill’s sponsor. Tester urged Senate Veteran Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and the rest of its members to take steps to address the “lack of qualified mental health professionals working for the VA,” citing the fact that licensed professional counselors and licensed marriage and family therapists make up 40 percent of the mental health private practice workforce but only 200 spots in the VA.

Last year, ACA’s Public Policy Department launched an aggressive media campaign emphasizing the need for the VA to hire more mental health professionals.

“ACA is incredibly grateful to Senator Tester for sponsoring a bill that will empower and enhance the counseling profession,” says Art Terrazas, director of public policy. “The VA has been falling behind in their efforts to recruit and obtain all available mental health clinicians, but we believe that S.1155 will change this.”

Hopefully before the end of the year the the bill will have a “mark-up,” where the committee will decide whether to send it onto the full.

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  1. Tim McShane

    This is much needed legislation!
    Perhaps even more importantly is allowing Licensed Professional Counselors be approved to treat people who are on Medicare. I am so tired of only seeing “Social Workers” for jobs that Counselors are just as qualified for but are not approved to work under the current and obsolete Medicare law. This needs to change!

    1. Kelly Brandsgaard

      Could you please elaborate on who is qualified to fill these positions? I am unclear as to the guidelines about what defines a qualified mental health professional in the VA system, beyond being licensed at the highest level as a Licensed Professional Counselor in your state of residence. Thank you!

  2. Paula Hughes

    This sounds terrific, except for the fact that counselors can not provide services within the VA system unless they are graduates of a CACREP accredited Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program. There are not too many counselors who meet this criteria at present, and the window for grandfathering is closing soon.


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