On Sept. 10, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a legislative hearing and heard testimony on over 30 bills, many of them related to veterans’ mental health. Key among them was the Veterans COMPACT Act (PDF, 377KB), a discussion draft by Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., that included several of APA’s top priorities:
- Mandating a mental health assessment for servicemembers during the Transition Assistance Program.
- Improving psychologist hiring at APA by moving psychologists into Title 38 hiring authority.
- Mandating lethal means safety training throughout VA.
- Allowing VA prescribing psychologists to practice to the full scope of their license.
There was also legislation that would strengthen requirements for VA police to report use-of-force incidents (H.R. 7784 VA Police Improvement and Accountability Act) and require non-VA providers to meet the same quality standards as VA providers (H.R. 7504).
APA submitted a statement for the record to the House Committee highlighting APA’s priorities (PDF, 193KB). APA endorsed several bills discussed at the hearing including the VA Police Improvement and Accountability Act (H.R. 7784), introduced by Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., which would improve how VA police track their use of force and require the use of body cameras throughout the force. APA also supports Takano’s Veterans’ ACCESS Act amendment, which would allow VA to provide and pay for emergent suicide prevention services, ensuring cost is not a barrier to suicide prevention treatment.
Retired VA psychologist Russell Lemle, PhD, testified at the House hearing on behalf of the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute, presenting important views on lethal means safety and the importance of ensuring community care providers meet the same quality standards as providers in VA.
On Sept. 9, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs also held a veterans’ mental health hearing discussing the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Improvement Act (S. 785). This bill passed the Senate on Aug. 5, 2020. While the Senate bill includes important language, there are many missing components, including lethal means safety training and expanding practice authority for psychologists.
On Monday, Sept. 14, the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees came to an agreement on legislative language, which includes the Veterans ACCESS Act and a section of the VA Police Accountability Act, which were discussed at last week’s legislative hearing. While APA’s other priorities were not included in the final bill, having these bills included in a legislative hearing is a step in the right direction. APA will continue advocating for improving how psychologists are recruited and retained in VA, allowing prescribing psychologists to practice to the full scope of their license in VA, and veteran-specific mandating lethal means safety counseling and training.
For more information, contact Sophie Friedl.