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VA to streamline hiring of mental health care professionals

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U.S. SENATE — Following a years-long push from Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that the Office of Personnel Management is finalizing two new occupational series for Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists at VA—a move that will help VA recruit and retain mental health providers in rural America.

“Ensuring the steady and streamlined hiring of mental health providers is a key component in our continued push to strengthen VA’s workforce in rural states like Montana,” said Chairman Tester. “That’s why this change is so critical—it’ll establish a process to fill critical vacancies, retain qualified talent, and connect more folks in hard to reach areas with the quality mental health care they need and earned.”

“Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists help provide our veterans with the services and care they need,” said Ranking Member Moran. “After many years of advocating with my colleagues for a change in the way VA hires this category of therapists, the VA plans to establish an occupational series which will help streamline the hiring process of these health care professionals. Through this change, veterans will have greater access to the services provided by therapists and counselors through the VA.”

The Senators championed their bipartisan Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act (Hannon Act)—a landmark law to bolster VA’s mental health workforce and increase rural veterans’ access to care. Signed into law in October 2020, the Hannon Act required VA and OPM to develop an occupational series for Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists at VA to deliver more timely mental health care to veterans. An occupational series is an OPM classification that makes it easier for human resources specialists to post job vacancies and place qualified candidates in open positions. Under this new announcement, current employees will be transitioned onto the new occupational series no later than Jan. 9, 2023. The new occupational series will also be used to aid the Department’s mental health care hiring efforts.

“The creation of the new Occupational Series for LPMHCs and MFTs will ensure VA is able to hire and retain more mental health professionals to provide the high-quality care our nation’s veterans deserve,” said National Board for Certified Counselors President and CEO Dr. Kylie Dotson-Blake PhD, NCC, LCMHC. “We applaud Sen. Tester and Sen. Moran for their dedication to ensuring access to care for veterans and their years of work on this important issue.”

“We have been eagerly awaiting this news for months,” said President of the Veterans Coalition of Northwest Montana Michael Shepard. “At the Veterans Coalition of Northwest Montana, we teach a proactive course in identifying veteran tendencies for possible suicide prevention. But without adequate VA mental health care staff, our efforts only go so far. We appreciate Senator Tester’s efforts and are optimistic this change will prevent more veterans from falling through the cracks.”


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