On October 13, members of Congress; Veterans Health Administration staff, including two psychologists; and representatives of veterans service provided feedback at a congressional hearing on a slate of proposed legislation, including several bills focused on expanding access to mental health care.
APA has endorsed many of the bills that were under consideration at the hearing, which focused on expanding outreach to veterans, addressing women veterans’ health care, and stemming the high rates of suicide and suicidal ideation in veterans. Another bill supported by APA would support federally funded clinical trials into potential benefits of medical marijuana for veterans.
Psychologist David Carroll, PhD, executive director of the VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, led a panel of VA staff in providing feedback from the administration. According to Carroll, while the VA supports the Expanding the Families of Veterans Access to Mental Health Services Act (H.R. 5029), which seeks to improve access to mental health care for veterans and their families, it opposes the Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act Draft and REACH for Veterans ACT (H.R. 5073), as the VA already has significant authority and ability to provide quality care without the legislation.
Psychologist Kaki York-Ward, PhD, president of the Association of VA Psychologist Leaders (AVAPL), emphasized that the proposed legislation to increase outreach to veterans in transition periods is backed by evidence, as outreach is shown to reduce suicide. She also testified that AVAPL has collected anecdotal evidence that VA health centers already provide mental health care to families of veterans who die by suicide, so the Expanding the Families of Veterans Access to Mental Health Services Act (H.R. 5029) should be passed to codify and fund an already existing service. York-Ward also encouraged Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) to consider adding psychologists to her draft bill supporting flexibility in hiring and retaining nurse and physician assistants, as VA also has a shortage of psychologists. Finally, she encouraged the committee to support the VA Cannabis Research Act of 2021 (H.R. 2916) and its associated studies, as statistics show that 57% of veterans already admit to having used marijuana, and studies on Canadian veterans indicate an increase in positive outcomes regarding PTSD diagnoses.
The full list of legislation under consideration included the Solid Start Act of 2021 (H.R. 2819), the VA Cannabis Research Act of 2021 (H.R. 2916), the Veteran Peer Specialist Act of 2021 (H.R. 4575), the Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options (MAMMO) for Veterans Act (H.R. 4794), the Expanding the Families of Veterans Access to Mental Health Services Act (H.R. 5029), the Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act (H.R. 5073), and the VA Governors Challenge Expansion Act of 2021 (H.R. 5317).
For more information, contact APA Advocacy Office.