Update on House VA Hearing
On Thursday, September 10, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held its hearing to discuss over 30 VA healthcare bills that, collectively, will serve as the House’s companion bill to S 785, the Senate-passed VA healthcare bill. Among these bills are two bills, the VA Mental Health Staffing Act (H.R. 8144) and the VA Mental Health Counseling Act (H.R. 8145), both introduced by Representative Jahana Hayes (D-CT), that will ensure that Veterans have access to the mental health care that they need. A recording of this hearing can be found on the committee’s website.
During this hearing, the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs heard testimony from representatives from several veterans’ service organizations. One witness, Joy Ilem, National Legislative Director for the Disabled American Veterans, submitted testimony in favor of both H.R. 8144 and H.R. 8145. In her written testimony, Ms. Ilem noted that “(m)arriage and family therapists are often specifically requested by veterans and their availability equates to rounding out a full complement of VA’s traditional interdisciplinary mental health care teams.”
In addition to H.R. 8144 and H.R. 8145, bills that AAMFT has endorsed, the remaining bills address Veteran suicide and would make many other changes to improve care for Veterans. The next step will be a markup of these bills in order to move them to the full House of Representatives for a vote, hopefully within the next few weeks.
AAMFT has been advocating for Congress to pass legislation that would assist Veterans seeking mental health treatment by improving the hiring of MFTs with facilities operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other changes. Last month, the Senate passed, without opposition, S. 785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. This bill contains several provisions to prevent Veteran suicide and strengthen the VA mental health workforce, such as improving the hiring of MFTs within the VA.
On Thursday, September 10, a committee of the House of Representatives, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, will hold a hearing on over 30 VA healthcare bills that, collectively, will serve as the House’s companion bill to S 785. Among these bills are two bills, the VA Mental Health Staffing Act (H.R 8144) and the VA Mental Health Counseling Act (H.R. 8145), both introduced by Representative Jahana Hayes (D-CT), that will ensure that Veterans have access to the mental health care that they need.
The VA Mental Health Staffing Act and the VA Mental Health Counseling Act would make several changes that will facilitate the hiring of MFTs as VA provider, including:
- Requiring the VA to develop a plan to address staffing of mental health providers within the VA;
- Requiring the VA to development a plan to address staffing shortages of MFTs and mental health counselors (MHCs) within the VA, including the steps the VA will take in each region to address these shortages; and
- Within one year from enactment, requiring the VA to work with the Office of Personnel Management to develop an occupational series for MFTs, as well as MHCs.
AAMFT has endorsed both bills, along with several other mental health and veteran support organizations, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the American Mental Health Counselors Association, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, Minority Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
AAMFT thanks Representative Hayes for her sponsorship of the VA Mental Health Staffing Act and the VA Mental Health Counseling Act. We also thank the 15 Members of Congress who are cosponsoring H.R. 8144 and the 12 Members who are cosponsoring H.R. 8145. Thursday’s committee hearing will be the first step in moving the VA suicide prevention and mental health legislation through the House of Representatives.