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More Information on the Indian Health Service
Professional counselors are not recognized as health care providers by the Indian Health Service (IHS) and are not eligible for funding through the IHS scholarship program, a primary mental health professional recruitment tool for IHS.
NBCC decided to take action on this issue after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general’s office released a report in September 2011 showing a shortage of mental health professionals in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities and a lack of distinction between professional counselors and unlicensed practitioners.
It is important for the counseling profession and for AI/AN communities in need of additional mental health care that professional counselors are added to the laws listing professions eligible for IHS employment and scholarships. NBCC has invited other counseling organizations to collaborate on this issue.
After the release of the inspector general’s report, NBCC met with the offices of several members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The Senate meetings were productive and uncovered some early interest and support. However, because IHS does not require reauthorization every six years, as it did previously, language adding counselors to the list of IHS mental health providers must move through a stand-alone bill or some other omnibus bill that includes this type of provision.
Communication With IHS
NBCC has met with IHS staff members on multiple occasions, and has remained in contact outside of official meetings. NBCC and collaborating counselor organizations met with the director of the IHS Division of Behavioral Health to discuss the role of counselors within the IHS and existing statutory limitations on the recognition of the profession.
IHS officials indicated a desire to use counselors and were not aware of any legal restrictions. They agreed to look into the statutory language, but believed they had the authority to hire counselors. All participants agreed to the shared goal of increasing access to counselors.