On Your Behalf
David Shern, PhD, president and chief operating officer of Mental Health America, spoke to Senate staffers April 18 at a briefing that advocated reducing Medicare's discriminatory 50 percent co-insurance for outpatient mental health services. APA is a founding member of the Medicare Mental Health Equity Coalition, which supports Medicare parity legislation sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and John Kerry (D-Mass.).
The APA Practice Organization mobilized psychologists across America to send more than 10,700 e-mails to legislators to support passage of the House mental health parity bill and encourage continuing negotiations on a bill that can pass both chambers. The bill passed the House on March 5 by a vote of 268 to 148. The Senate and House are now in negotiations on the legislation. A full report on the law and what it means for psychologists and the public will appear in an upcoming Monitor.
Thanks in part to concerted APA advocacy, Congress recently authorized special pay for military psychologists and other health professions officers. Not only will this pay acknowledge military psychologists for their service, but it will also enhance recruitment and retention efforts for critically needed mental health providers in the military. In a recent letter, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for health affairs recognized APA's concern for service members and their families and assured APA that the military services are in the midst of developing an implementation plan for the special pay.
APA's Science Government Relations Office took advantage of several recent opportunities to advocate for psychological research at the Department of Veterans Affairs. On March 13, Steve Breckler, PhD, APA's executive director for science, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies. He urged Congress to resist another round of proposed cuts to the VA research budget and highlighted the critical roles VA psychologists play in advancing the science that underpins veterans' health care. Earlier in the month, the Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research coalition held its annual briefing with congressional and high-level VA staff, including VA Chief Research and Development Officer Joel Kupersmith, MD, and the director of the VA's Rehabilitation Research and Development program, Michael Selzer, MD, PhD. APA's Science staff also met with representatives of the Association of VA Psychologist Leaders in March. Based on discussion with these psychologists, APA is scheduling a meeting with the VA research office to discuss potential changes to its institution review board system.
APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office arranged for three APA members to present critical psychological research and public policy proposals at two important April 15 events: The Congressional Black Caucus Spring Health Braintrust and the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association's annual conference. At the braintrust, Gayle K. Porter, PsyD, co-director of the Gaston and Porter Health Improvement Center in Maryland, spoke about the benefits of improving mental health care services for racial and ethnic-minority communities. In particular, she emphasized the need to ensure that health improvement efforts are culturally competent, effective, evidenced-based and community-centered. In addition, Brian Smedley, PhD, research director of the Opportunity Agenda in Washington, D.C., underscored key provisions in the Health Equity and Accountability Act that would help introduce and define the concept of health equity.
At the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association's conference, "The Triple Threat: HIV, Substance Use, and Mental Illness--Building Public Health Advocacy," Tomas Soto, PhD, MPH, addressed best practices on HIV prevention and the importance of advocacy. He stressed the importance of integrating cultural and linguistic competence in HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.
Following effective advocacy by psychologists, the APA Practice Organization was able to secure 12 U.S. representatives' signatures on a letter in support of increased appropriations for programs under the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (S. 2304 and H.R. 3992). The legislation would reauthorize a Department of Justice program to provide grants to states and localities to promote coordination between justice and mental health services for nonviolent offenders with mental health and substance abuse problems.
On March 12, APA joined more than 30 organizations at the Congressional Traumatic Brain Injury Taskforce's annual TBI Awareness Fair. Janet Niemeier, PhD, a rehabilitation psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia, represented APA and highlighted the contributions rehabilitation psychologists are making to improve diagnosis, assessment and treatment for patients with TBI. Niemeier's research on improving cognition in TBI recovery is funded by both the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the National Institutes of Health's National Center on Medical Rehabilitation Research.
A Defense Department official responded to APA's letter of concern about possible violations of therapist-patient privilege in court proceedings regarding homosexual conduct. The official informed APA that while the department was not aware of any instances in which therapists reported the sexual orientation of their patients in violation of the therapist-patient privilege, the Defense Department will recommend clarification of its policy guidance as applied to administrative separations.