FY2010 Military Construction/VA Appropriations: Increase Training of Psychologists Skilled in Treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury

Request: Provide bill language directing the VA to transfer $5 million to support increased training of psychologists skilled in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and related disorders through the existing HHS Graduate Psychology Education Program.

Background: The Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) Program is the nation’s only federal program dedicated solely to the education and training of psychologists. The activity is authorized by the Public Health Service Act [P.L. 105-392 Section 755 (b)(1)(J)] and funded under the “Allied Health and Other Disciplines” account in the Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill. Without GPE, the nation would lose its critical mechanism to ensure the interdisciplinary training and placement of psychologists who specialize in underserved populations in communities with shortages of mental & behavioral health providers.

Established seven years ago, the GPE program is a competitive grant activity operated by the Health Resources and Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Currently it supports interdisciplinary training grants at 20 academic institutions and training sites around the country. GPE provides grants to accredited psychology doctoral, internship and postdoctoral training programs. An exemplary “two-for-one” federal program, GPE supports the training of psychology graduate students in both rural and urban communities while they provide supervised mental and behavioral health services to underserved populations, such as victims of abuse and trauma, including returning military personnel suffering from combat stress disorders and their families.

Benefits of VA & HHS Collaboration: The VA administers an outstanding program of APA accredited one year psychology internships and postdoctoral residencies. It does not, however, administer academic doctoral programs in psychology, where more than 80% of graduate training of future psychologists occurs. Psychology doctoral programs can be funded within the well-established HHS GPE program to build the nation's psychology workforce to address post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat related conditions, as well as rehabilitation of traumatic brain injury and other physical injuries.

The Need: A growing number of reports document an impending deluge in demand for treatment of psychological conditions in our nation’s military, civilian and veterans’ health care systems. The recent “Report of the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health” documents that nearly 40 percent of soldiers and half of National Guard members, report psychological “symptoms” and that these problems are “daunting and growing.” The Task Force highlighted the great need for adequately trained mental health professionals –both civilian and military. The report also recognized that increasingly National Guard, reservists -- and even active duty members stationed far from military healthcare installations -- and their families are most likely to seek care in civilian settings through the DOD’s TRICARE Network reimbursement system. The “Dole-Shalala” Commission Report and the APA report on military mental health needs made similar findings about the national needs in this area. The nation’s health system is certain to experience increased strain for years to come as active duty service members re-enter civilian society and turn to mental healthcare professionals in local communities skilled in treating such combat stress disorders and their effects on families.

In Summary: It is in the best interests of the VA and the nation to ensure graduate training of psychologists specifically dedicated to treating the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and related combat stress disorders. Transferring $5 million in FY 2010 will enable the VA to work in a cooperative effort with HHS in awarding new GPE grants for this critical purpose in a targeted component of the GPE program. This national competition would fund approximately 33 graduate programs throughout the country to strengthen the national training pipeline.