Article Published: 7/26/2023
In October 2020, Congress passed the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Improvement Act, which required the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand access to mental health services, including substance use disorder treatment, animal and art therapy, and suicide prevention screening. It also established grant and scholarship programs aimed at bolstering the VA mental health workforce. Among these provisions was the requirement that the VA work with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to establish a Federal Occupational Series for mental health counselors. The creation of an independent series for counselors will allow them to be promoted and apply for supervisory positions. NBCC had been advocating for this provision for many years and worked closely with Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) to have it included in this landmark piece of legislation.
Earlier this year, the VA finalized Occupational Series 0183 and began hiring mental health counselors under their own designation for the first time in history. However, the 0183 series is currently only authorized for use by the VA. Many other federal agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Service and the Department of Justice, often hire mental health counselors. Counselors working in these agencies are currently hired under the Social Science Series 101, which does not allow for counselors to be promoted beyond certain levels or to fill supervisory roles.
Though significant progress has been made, work to have the series adopted by the entire federal government remains. Federal agencies must request permission to hire under the series from OPM. NBCC has been working with the Indian Health Service (IHS) as well as Sen. Ben Ray Lujan’s (D-NM) office to promote the adoption of the series by the agency. This would allow IHS to attract more counselors to address the dire shortage on tribal lands. NBCC will continue to engage IHS and other federal agencies to educate them on the series and how to access it.
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