Military Health System

Soldier and Wife

NBCC supports service members, veterans and their families and promotes ensuring access to qualified mental health counselors. NBCC pursues legislative and regulatory policies through Congress and the military branches that ensure counselors are eligible to practice and promotional opportunities consistent with other mental health professions.

For years, Department of Defense (DOD) programs have omitted or limited access to mental health counselors. NBCC has had great success in opening military programs to counselors and will continue these efforts, but the profession still struggles to obtain rights and privileges consistent with other professions.

2018-2021

NBCC continues to advocate for independent credentialing standards across the Department of Defense that would allow mental health counselors to practice independently across all five branches of the military.

2019

The Department of Defense reclassifies mental health counselors as Health Care Providers instead of Paraprofessionals.

2017

Four Representatives and two Senators requested language be included in the annual National Defense Authorization Act providing mental health counselors independent practice rights and privileges.

2016

The Department of the Army releases Policy Memo 16-083, granting counselors independent privileging rights. NBCC also convinces several House and Senate Armed Services Committee Members to include in their list of priorities for FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) language creating a national credentialing standard and authorizing direct commissioning for counselors.

2015

The FY16 NDAA contains language that includes counselors in a list of mental health professionals to be studied by the Defense Department.

2015

Lobbies Congress for inclusion of counselor credentialing and commissioning language in the FY16 NDAA.

2014

TRICARE releases final rule granting counselors independent practice authority.

2011

TRICARE releases interim final rule granting counselors independent practice authority.

2011

Army Substance Abuse Program issues Directive 2011-09, granting counselors independent practice authority under ASAP.


NBCC, in coalition with other counseling organizations, passed legislation to remove restrictions prohibiting independent practice for counselors. In July 2014, the DOD established a final rule granting independent practice authority for counselors.

Read more about the history of counselor practice under TRICARE.

The DOD has authorized the Behavioral Health Service Line to employ licensed counselors as independent practitioners. This policy was a first step toward counselor parity within the military health system.

The policy change also coincided with a Behavioral Health Service Line national hiring initiative for substance abuse counselors, which increased the opportunities for counselors to serve military personnel.

While counselors are recognized as independent practitioners by TRICARE and ASAP, the rest of the military health system does not treat counselors as core mental health professionals. DOD needs to establish a uniform standard that allows the profession to practice independently throughout the military health system. Current policies vary among the branches and programs, with many requiring counselors to be supervised, in conflict with their state licensure requirements. These restrictions exacerbate the shortage of mental health professionals available to service members and their families. Counselors are also not eligible for commissioning into officer positions, limiting their pay and promotional opportunities. NBCC is pursuing legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act to create a uniform credentialing standard for counselors and to grant commissioning to the profession.

The NBCC Foundation (NBCCF) has demonstrated a commitment to improving the lives of service members and veterans through military scholarships. The Foundation created the scholarships in 2009 to provide financial support to active duty personnel and veterans who are enrolled in accredited counseling programs. Each year, the Foundation awards five military scholarships in the amount of $8,000 each. The NBCCF military scholarships provide financial support to service members and veterans who commit to serving military service members, veterans and families for a minimum of two years upon graduation. Candidates for the scholarship must have recent military experience. As of May 2016, the Foundation has awarded 40 military scholarships.

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