On September 23, The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed S. 785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019. This legislation ensures that more veterans will be connected to critical mental health care and combat veteran suicide. The bill passed the Senate on August 8, after which it was sent to the House. This legislation will be presented to President Trump for signature in the near future. AAMFT is excited at the progress of this important legislation.
Along with improving suicide prevention and crisis resources for veterans, this legislation will have several direct benefits to MFTs hoping to practice in clinics and other facilities operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The provisions pertaining to MFTs include the following:
- Requiring the VA to work with the Office of Personnel Management to develop a separate occupational series for MFTs, which would greatly facilitate the hiring of MFTs as federal employees.
- A study to review the staffing levels of MFTs and mental health counselors (MHCs) within the VA, including a description of any impediments to the hiring of MFTs and MHCs within the VA, a strategy for addressing those impediments, and a description of actions taken by the VA to ensure that the national, regional, and local professional standards boards for MFT and MHCs are comprised of only MFTs and MHCs.
- The creation of a Readjustment Counseling Service Scholarship Program that would allow MFT students, as well as other students in other mental health disciplines, to receive scholarships from the VA if they agree to be employed in a Vet Center for several years.
- The development of a staffing plan by the VA to address staffing shortages of mental health providers, including MFTs, as well as the steps the VA will take to address these shortages.
AAMFT has been working for many years to improve the hiring of MFTs within the VA. Although MFTs have been recognized and hired as eligible providers since 2010, barriers have hindered many MFTs from becoming hired as VA employees. Counselors, who were also first recognized as eligible VA providers in 2010, are experiencing similar problems. AAMFT has been working with the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) to address these problems. AAMFT and AMHCA also advocated for similar legislation that was introduced in the House of Representatives.
This legislation, S. 785, is considered one of the most significant mental healthcare and suicide prevention bills pertaining to Veterans that Congress has ever approved. The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jerry Moran, along with other ranking members of the Senate shared their excitement about the passing of S. 785 in the House. Chairman Moran stated, “Every day we lose 20 veterans to suicide and this pandemic has further worsened mental health conditions and resulted in more veterans being isolated from friends and family… Passing this legislation to serve veterans was our top priority this Congress, and I look forward to the president quickly signing the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act into law.”
AAMFT is grateful for the passing of these bills in the Senate and the House, and look forward to the signing into law of this historical legislation.