House Passes Shea-Porter Amendment to Improve VA Hiring of Mental Health Professionals
WASHINGTON, DC— The U.S. House today passed an amendment introduced by Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) to improve VA hiring of mental health professionals.
“The VA faces a critical shortage of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health counselors, and peer support specialists. These providers care for our veterans with behavioral health needs that include post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, and substance use disorder. Too many of our veterans must wait to receive the mental health care we have promised to them, and some never receive needed care at all,” Shea-Porter said while offering the amendment on the House floor. “In my home state of New Hampshire, we are fighting a fentanyl, heroin and prescription opioid crisis that is disproportionately affecting the veteran community. Increasing mental health provider capacity will allow more of these veterans to enter treatment and, ultimately, recovery.”
Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, rose to speak in support of Shea-Porter’s amendment, saying: “It’s critical that VA closely track to mental health vacancies on an ongoing basis so they can be prioritized and filled to prevent any disruptions in care to our most vulnerable veterans. I’m fully supportive of this amendment and grateful to Representative Shea-Porter for submitting it.”
The American Legion said: “The American Legion thanks Congresswoman Shea-Porter for her amendment, which will improve veterans’ access to critical mental health services, allowing the VA to better serve those who have sacrificed for our nation.”
Shea-Porter’s amendment passed as part of H.R. 1367, a bill to improve the VA’s ability to hire and retain health providers, which would create a database to help match qualified applicants to critical open positions at the VA, facilitating faster hiring. Because of Shea-Porter’s amendment, that database will list open mental health positions if the bill becomes law, improving the VA’s ability to hire needed mental health professionals.
The VA’s current shortage of mental health providers causes unacceptable wait-times for veterans who need care for mental health conditions, including substance use disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and military sexual trauma. More than 20% of veterans suffering from PTSD also suffer from substance use disorder, and 25% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan showed signs of substance use disorder. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of veterans suffering from opioid use disorder increased by 55%.
A former military spouse, Shea-Porter understands the challenges facing our military families and veterans. This Congress, she has cosponsored 18 bipartisan bills to improve services for veterans, including the WINGMAN Act, legislation she co-introduced and the House passed earlier this year to make it easier for certified Congressional caseworkers to assist veterans. She has been a leader in the fight to lift the harmful federal hiring freeze that is damaging the VA’s ability to provide care and limiting employment opportunities for returning veterans.
In January, Shea-Porter reintroduced the Veterans Health Equity Act, a bill that would remedy New Hampshire’s status as the only state in the nation without a full-service VA hospital or equivalent access. The bill has been cosponsored by every member of the New Hampshire delegation, Republican and Democratic, since Shea-Porter first introduced it in 2008.
FULL TEXT OF SHEA-PORTER’S REMARKS
“I rise today to offer an amendment to H.R. 1367, legislation to improve the VA’s ability to hire and retain physicians and other employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Under this legislation, the VA would create a database to help match qualified job applicants to critical open positions in order to more quickly fill those vacancies. My amendment is simple; it requires the VA to include mental health positions in that database, allowing it to better serve veterans with critical needs by ensuring that the VA uses all available tools to recruit and hire qualified mental health professionals in a timely and effective manner.
“The VA faces a critical shortage of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health counselors, and peer support specialists. These providers care for our veterans with behavioral health needs that include post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, and substance use disorder. Too many of our veterans must wait to receive the mental health care we have promised to them, and some might never receive needed care at all.
“In my home state of New Hampshire, we are fighting a fentanyl, heroin and prescription opioid crisis that is disproportionately affecting the veteran community. Rates of opioid-use disorder among veterans rose 55% between 2010 and 2015, and overdose rates for prescription opioids are twice as high as the national average among veterans getting care at the VA. Increasing mental health provider capacity will allow more of these veterans to enter treatment and, ultimately, recovery.
“Our veterans deserve to be treated by professionals who fully understand the veteran experience and veteran-specific mental health conditions. That is why it is so important for veterans to have the option to receive specialized mental health from VA mental health professionals who have the training that will allow them to build trust.
“In fact, only 13% of non-VA mental health providers meet the criteria to deliver veteran-centric mental health care, according to RAND. This is why it is so important to hire and retain mental health professionals within the VA.
“Right now, there are several open mental health positions at our local VA Medical Center that need to be filled. The VAMC seeks to hire clinical staff and a Mental Health Service Line Manager, but is finding it hard to locate qualified applicants. My amendment will make it easier for the VA to find such applicants and match them with the open positions we need filled.
“There is an urgent need to address this problem. Every day, 20 veterans commit suicide. MST. Opioid. PTSD. These are all crises we need to address. The time to act is now. Please vote yes on this amendment.”