Your government relations team at the American Counseling Association continues to push the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to begin hiring counselors in its health care system. News reports regularly cite the need to increase veterans’ access to mental health services, but VA clinics and facilities appear uninterested in hiring any master’s-level providers other than clinical social workers. Although counselors are eligible for several “counseling psychologist” positions for which the Army is hiring to provide substance abuse services, VA hiring of either licensed professional counselors or licensed marriage and family therapists appears to be at a standstill. VA central office staff in Washington, D.C., contend they cannot tell VA facility directors in the field whom to hire. Absent any direction from the VA central office — or from congressional offices — VA facility directors and their human resources personnel remain either uninformed about or uninterested in their ability to hire licensed professional mental health counselors to provide clinical mental health services to veterans.

Shortly after the ACA Conference in San Francisco in March, ACA staff and representatives from the National Board for Certified Counselors, the American Mental Health Counselors Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists met with staff from the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Our coalition was able to visit both with Democratic and Republican committee staff to discuss this critical issue, and several recommendations were offered for improving hiring practices within the VA. These suggestions included having the VA hire a “liaison” to the counseling community, creating more internships for counseling students and working with professional associations such as ACA to help the VA fill vacancies when it is having difficulty finding qualified professionals. Overall, the meetings seemed very positive, and the ACA public policy staff looks forward to working with congressional offices on these and other steps to promote VA recognition of the counseling profession.

In addition, ACA joined coalition partners in a productive meeting with Alfonso Batres, chief officer for the Veterans Health Administration’s Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) program. ACA offered to provide assistance to Batres and his colleagues in reaching out to hire new counselors, publicizing new programs and serving as a general partner in working to meet the mental health needs of our nation’s veterans. Batres was very receptive to our message and said he viewed ACA as a potential resource in the work of the RCS. He also suggested holding regular meetings with ACA, NBCC, AMHCA, AAMFT and CAMFT to discuss needs and issues that arise.

For more information on ACA’s work concerning VA issues or to find out how you can help advocate for broader recognition of counselors within the VA, contact Art Terrazas at or 800.347.6647 ext. 234.

More calls, emails needed
on Medicare legislation

At the ACA Conference in San Francisco, the chairs of the four ACA regions (North Atlantic, Southern, Midwest and Western) graciously gave time during their respective meetings so ACA public policy staff could discuss our grass-roots push to gain coverage of counselors under Medicare. With Congress almost certain to pass legislation — most likely in a lame-duck session in December — to maintain (aka “fix”) Medicare physician payment rates, counselors have roughly eight months to build support for including a counselor coverage provision as part of the bill. ACA staff members Scott Barstow and Art Terrazas invited state counseling organization leaders to join in pushing senators and representatives to enact counselor coverage language. The best way to get the attention of members of Congress is to sit down with them (or their staff members) in a face-to-face meeting. Terrazas is ready and waiting to help counselors carry out these meetings or to answer questions about other ways of working with your elected officials.

Grass-roots contacts are working, as evidenced by the fact that Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii became the most recent senator to co-sponsor S. 604, the bill establishing Medicare coverage of counselors and marriage and family therapists. (Thank you, Hawaii counselors!) We need more senators to join Akaka in co-sponsoring S. 604.

Department of Education
late in releasing ESSCP funds

The Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program (ESSCP) is one of the more popular programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The program routinely gets so many applications for funding that the agency only accepts new applications every other year. According to Department of Education staff, a new round of applications will be solicited for funding for the current federal fiscal year, FY 2012. However, with the fiscal year half over, the department has yet to announce that it is accepting applications.

ACA is working to learn more about the department’s plan for announcing grants, and we will disseminate information on the availability of funding on our website as soon as we know more. In the meantime, interested counselors are encouraged to visit the agency’s website devoted to the program at For more information, contact Scott Barstow at