BY THOMAS C. HALL, PH.D., CHAIR
During a national critical shortage of mental health professionals in which demand is surging, many Vet Center counselors have been sidelined. This decision was made despite the fact that the VA openly admits they cannot fill all the mental health positions they desperately need to serve veterans.
A recent change requiring licensed mental health professionals to have a degree from an institution certified by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is sidelining men and women without the required certification who have been working in Vet Centers for years. They have been removed from performing supervisory and clinical duties.
So even if you are a Master’s-level Licensed Professional Counselor, you are not allowed to treat veterans in need of help, even if you have been doing just that for several years. This change is based on a variety of official-sounding policy rationalizations. While one might understand the desire to make Vet Center polices mirror those of the VA Medical Centers, Vet Centers were never intended to be equivalent to the hospitals.
Vet Centers were established as peer-to-peer counseling outreach to disaffected veterans returning from war who did not want the rigid, stilted license-over-connection-to-the-vet approach the VA was offering. Counseling at Vet Centers is based on a non-medical model.
The challenge facing counselors who have not graduated from CACREP-certificated colleges and universities is that they now would have to take expensive and time-consuming classes to obtain this new certification—certifications which, ironically, the schools they graduated from may have since obtained. What’s more, the American Counseling Association has said it will work to ensure that the regulations be broadened to be more inclusive and not require graduation from a CACREP program.
But counselors who did not have the certification when they began at the Vet Centers are on their own, according to the VA. Something as simple as a transcript and syllabi review might verify that these counselors have acquired the same knowledge, skills, and attitudes required by CACREP certification and are therefore eligible to continue counseling.
We are not saying that CACREP certification is a bad thing for college and university programs. Meeting the training guidelines helps reassure all of us that we are receiving quality care when using behavioral health services at a Vet Center. What the committee is concerned about is the blunt instrument with which the VA has decided to implement a policy aimed at smoothing out the kinks in the policy handbook while disregarding the hard, quality work done by veterans to help other veterans come all the way home. Veterans who have a long track record of helping other veterans should not be told they cannot work based on this overly aggressive policy correction.
Please reach out to your representatives and ask them to require the VA to put a hold on the CACREP certification mandate process at Vet Centers and work instead to find ways to make sure that this program is implemented with surgical precision and to help those who were providing services continue to do so while the VA helps them find a way to meet the requirements of CACREP certification.
The PTSD/SA Committee looks forward to your feedback and encourages you to raise this issue whenever possible.