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Counselor Employment in the Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the federal department that provides benefits for U.S. veterans, including mental health care. Until recently, the VA did not recognize or employ professional counselors to provide care to our nation’s veterans.

NBCC has advocated for increased recognition and hiring of professional counselors by the VA for years, efforts that passed a law in 2006 adding licensed professional mental health counselors (LPMHCs) to the list of professions eligible for VA employment. NBCC continued its advocacy on this issue, leading to the VA’s release of qualification standards in December 2010, allowing for the hiring of LPMHCs to begin.

However, barriers remain to counselor employment in the VA, which continues to hire counselors in much lower numbers than other mental health professions. One such obstacle is the VA’s exclusion of counselors from the Health Professionals Trainee Program, the VA’s flagship recruitment program. NBCC has continued to work with the VA to further integrate the counseling profession into the VA health care system and increase hiring.

Read more about the history of this issue.

Latest Developments

In January 2014, the president signed the omnibus appropriations act. The act included language in the fiscal year 2014 report from the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Appropriations that urged the VA to add counselors to the VA Health Professionals Trainee Program and required a report within 90 days. The VA submitted a report, which states that 195 counselors and marriage and family therapists have been hired since 2010 and indicates that the VA is creating a pilot program to add counselors to the program.

A new national workgroup for LPMHCs was formed within the VA. The workgroup will be composed of leadership from Mental Health Services and Mental Health Operations and several licensed professional mental health counselors who have been hired into the VA. The workgroup will assist with counselor integration.