Article Published: 3/22/2023
For years, NBCC has advocated for a separate federal occupational series designation for mental health counselors. On Feb. 1, 2023, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) formally launched the unique occupational series for mental health counselors (series #0183).
A separate series grants counselors improved recognition and professional identity throughout the federal system, facilitating simplified hiring for counselors, cross-agency movement, and increased pay and promotion potential.
In October 2020, Congress passed The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which was far-reaching legislation to address mental health care delivery issues in the VA. It includes provisions related to suicide prevention, integrating mental health care services and primary care, and updating of clinical practice guidelines.
The legislation directed the secretary of veterans affairs and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to develop federal occupational series for licensed professional mental health counselors (LPMHCs) and marriage and family therapists (MFTs).
This recognition comes on the heels of Congress passing legislation in December to approve mental health counselors as Medicare providers, effective Jan. 1, 2024. Recognition of counselors in the Medicare program and the formal launch of the new, unique occupational series for counselors are historic achievements for the profession. NBCC has fought for these advances for years on behalf of the counseling profession.
Why It Matters
All federal jobs are categorized into job categories called occupational series. Psychologists and social workers, for example, have had their own occupational series for years.
Mental health counselors have been lumped into a general occupational series for many years, which has made it more difficult to gain specific recognition for the profession. LPMHC positions were appointed under the hybrid “Title 38 Excepted Service Authority” and classified using the 0101 social science occupational series. Creation of the new 0183 occupational series for mental health counselors is a significant achievement.
As the federal Office of Personnel Management highlights, knowing what occupational series a person qualifies for will help them search the thousands of federal job announcements posted online.
LPMHCs currently employed by the VA will receive a notification of a personnel action realigning to the new occupational series and associated titles effective immediately. Documentation of this realignment action will be uploaded to the individual employee’s electronic Official Personnel Folder (e-OPF).
Nationwide, the VA must now use the new occupational series for recruitment of LPMHC positions.
The qualification standards for counselors can also be found in the VA Handbook 5005, Staffing, Part II, Appendix G43.
NCCs can begin to apply for the following positions highlighted in the VA Handbook:
The Bottom Line
NBCC anticipates that the new occupational series (0183) designation will offer a more dedicated process to posting new jobs and a seamless process for applying for those positions. It will lead to more recognition for the counseling profession in the federal government.
NBCC will monitor the implementation of the new occupational series to identify any concerns that NCCs experience in applying for new positions. NBCC will provide feedback to the VA on any problem areas.
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