(Photo by Heather Rudow) ACA Member Gregory Pollock prepares to lobby elected officials at the Institute for Leadership Training.

Gregory Pollock appears calm as he begins a long, sunny walk toward Capitol Hill, but he admits the idea of lobbying elected officials in a matter of hours has got him nervous.

“I’ve written letters and made phone calls to state congressmen before,” he says, “but I’ve never done something as big as this. It takes it to a whole other level. The last time I was even in DC was when I was 14 for a family vacation.”

The most vivid memory the Ohio native recalls from that previous trip is spotting the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. But today, Pollock and nearly 140 ACA branch, division and region leaders from across the country are heading straight to the source of national legislation to talk about important issues facing counselors and their profession.

Some of the counselors will be asking their senators and representatives to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but Pollock, the government relations chair for the Ohio Counseling Association, will be tackling Senate Bill 604, the Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2011. The bill will allow licensed professional counselors to be covered under Medicare, and it is something Pollock has passionately lobbied for in years past.

A professional clinical counselor for the past 15 years, Pollock says there have been many instances in which he has finally begun to make progress with a client but he has had to suddenly stop seeing them because they turned 65 and Medicare won’t cover their counseling visits. He says it’s detrimental to his clients’ mental health as well as to the counseling profession.

“They finally begin to feel that comfort and they begin making progress, and then it’s disrupted,” he says. “I think the reason I care so much about this is because I’ve seen the inequities firsthand and it’s really, really frustrating.”

Which is why, even as the Capitol building’s iconic dome looms in front of him, Pollock says he is ready to push his nervousness aside and speak out about a cause he believes in.

During his day on the Hill, Pollock meets with representatives for Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep.Steven LaTourette and has what he considers to be varying degrees of success with each. But the experience has left him invigorated, he says, and perpetuates his desire to advocate for for counselors at home and across the country. Pollock said he is also looking forward to giving a confidence boost to other counselors who haven’t tried lobbying before and who, like him, might be nervous about it.

“Now I can go to them and say, ‘I’ve done this, and you can, too,'” he says. “I can tell them I’ve been there before and it’s not so scary.’”

Pollock says it’s important for all counselors to get involved in order to make positive changes for the profession, even if it’s just joining an organization like ACA and keeping up to date on current events.

Recently, he says, a counselor asked him if she was covered under Medicare— the exact fight he has been involved with for the past three years.

But what Pollock says he has learned the most from his experience on Capitol Hill is that every action taken by a counselor to get his or her voice heard counts, and it doesn’t have to be at a national level.“If all the counselors in America wrote one, heartfelt letter to their local elected official about the importance of Medicare coverage for counselors, that would be at least 200,000 letters. Can you imagine what we could accomplish?”

For more information on S. 604 and other current issues, visit ACA’s public policy page.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for CT Online and Counseling Today. Contact her athrudow@counseling.org.