(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are pushing the Biden Administration to streamline hiring of mental care professionals to fill critical mental health vacancies as directed under their Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act (Hannon Act)—landmark law to bolster the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) mental health workforce and increase rural veterans’ access to care.

The Senators’ bipartisan Hannon Act, signed into law October 2020, required the VA and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to develop an occupational series for Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists at VA within one year of enactment of the law to deliver more timely mental health care to veterans. As of May 2022, VA reported a 23 percent vacancy rate for these critical positions.

“The absence of an occupational series for these two positions can add difficulties to the hiring process for human resources personnel attempting to fill vacancies and candidates researching and applying for positions at VA,” the Senators wrote to VA Secretary Denis McDonough and OPM Director Kiran Ahuja. “This high vacancy rate means VA is less equipped to provide veterans with counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, military sexual trauma, readjustment to civilian life, marriage and family matters, and other issues. VA and OPM must act with haste to create an occupational series for these positions in order to ensure VA human resources personnel and potential qualified candidates for these positions are able to fill these vacancies as quickly as possible.”

In the letter, Tester and Moran also requested VA and OPM report back on their progress establishing the occupational series requirement under the Hannon Act, stating: “Please provide an update on the status of the IPT’s [Integrated Project Team’s] work and a timeline…Ensuring VA is able to hire sufficient staff to provide high-quality counseling services in a timely manner is critical to meeting the mental health needs of veterans.”

Read the Senators’ full letter HERE.

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