Washington, DC – April 20, 2012 – Yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responded to a backlog of mental health cases and widespread public criticism of its performance by announcing it will add approximately 1,600 more mental health clinicians to its staff in facilities around the country. The additional positions will include nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, MFTs, mental health counselors, and social workers, as well as nearly 300 support staff joining its existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staff as part of an ongoing review of mental health operations within the VA. The press release by Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki failed to mention that mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists are included among the clinical professions eligible for hire. View the VA statement
The VA has assured AMHCA and its coalition partners that VA staff is promoting in press interviews the inclusion of mental health counselors in the group of eligible clinicians. Last evening, the PBS Newshour delved into criticisms of the agency’s slow hiring of mental health staff and interviewed a VA spokesperson about their new hiring goals. Dr. Sonja Batten, deputy chief consultant for specialty mental health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, expressed “excitement” about being able to hire licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists in the interview on the Newshour program. View the program or read the text
Dan Holdinghaus, chair of AMHCA’s Public Policy and Legislation Committee, reacted, “Statements by the VA to national news organizations trumpeting inclusion of our profession demonstrate that AMHCA and its coalition partners’ advocacy before the VA has begun to raise awareness within the bureaucracy of the value of hiring our profession.” Holdinghaus expects a slow process penetrating the VA hiring culture stating, “AMHCA has found the hiring process extremely cumbersome and led by staff that is inexperienced with mental health counselors.” Nevertheless, Holdinghaus believes AMHCA is making progress in raising awareness within the agency.
Next week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will hold a hearing on the adequacy of mental health services in the VA. The hearing is expected to feature a new report by the VA inspector general evaluating the adequacy of mental health services within the Department. The inspector general has a record of being sharply critical of VA performance in this area, and next week’s hearing is expected to again subject the agency to withering criticism from Senators on the Committee. AMHCA’s coalition has urged the inspector general to delve into VA hiring practices of mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, but to date the reports have not done so.
Contact James K. Finley, AMHCA director of public policy, at 800-326-2642, X-105, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.