S. 785 includes language directing the Department of Veterans Affairs to work with the Office of Personnel Management to create an occupational series for mental health counselors. This would make mental health counselors eligible for a broader range of positions within the VA. It also directs the Comptroller General to conduct a review of staffing levels for mental health counselors at the VA and any existing impediments to the hiring of mental health counselors and report those to Congress. These provisions will help lift barriers to entry into the VA for mental health counselors that have existed for years.
Jake Jackson, manager of NBCC’s Government & Legislative Affairs Department, has been diligent in securing and educating sponsors of this proposed bill. “NBCC consulted closely with main sponsors Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) on this bipartisan legislation,” he says. “When it was first introduced, it had very few cosponsors. Through NBCC’s advocacy efforts, we were able to raise the profile of the legislation and secure a total of 53 cosponsors in the Senate, helping push it to the full Senate for a vote.”
This is the first time in several years that a VA mental health bill has gained significant momentum in Congress. NBCC’s Government & Legislative Affairs Department is now working with the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as they work to craft a similar package that can be reconciled with the Senate legislation.
We will continue fighting to ensure that the positive language in S. 785 is included in the final legislation. To follow these advancements and other advocacy efforts led by NBCC’s Government & Legislative Affairs team, visit the Grassroots Action Center.