On Your Behalf

Helping victims of the Japanese tragedy

Since the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, APA has:

  • Provided psychological resources and research on responding to disasters to the Japanese Psychological Association.
  • Started consultations to develop recommendations for longer-term psychological recovery.
  • Posted resources to the APA Psychology Help Center for individuals around the world who are distressed about the safety and well-being of those in Japan, including family, friends and colleagues.
  • Explored ways to offer psychological support to individuals in the United States who are personally affected by the earthquake and its aftermath.
  • Urged psychologists with disaster response experience to travel to Japan only if they receive a formal invitation from an established international disaster response agency and have cultural and language proficiency (per APA policy, APA Statement on the Role of Psychologists in International Emergencies).
  • Provided experts in trauma response and crisis communications to domestic and international news media.

APA is continuing to monitor the disaster and ongoing relief efforts and looking for additional ways to provide assistance and support.

Defending peer review

APA Science Directorate government relations staff led the scientific community in expressing opposition to six amendments filed by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in February that would significantly cut research grant funding from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. APA argued that cutting grants that had already been approved would damage the integrity of the peer-review process. The Coalition to Promote Research, a group of 60 science organizations co-chaired by APA, sent a letter to every member of the House of Representatives urging a “no” vote on the amendments, which were proposed for inclusion in H.R.1, a bill that would cut $61 billion in federal spending for the current fiscal year.

Among the research grants singled out for cuts was one exploring how elderly people — particularly those in rural communities who have no convenient access to services — can use computer programs to improve their cognitive functioning skills. Thanks in part to this concerted coalition advocacy effort, the amendments were not part of the final bill approved by the House.

Speaking up for the rights of women and girls

In February, APA’s Public Interest Government Relations Office hosted a Capitol Hill day for the executive committee of Div. 27 (Society for Community Research and Action: Division of Community Psychology). The event featured federal advocacy training providing an overview of APA government relations, the federal policymaking process and how psychologists can effectively inform policymakers.

In addition, participants were briefed on a key policy issue of concern to APA and Div. 27, the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

APA staff were joined by the co-chairs of the CEDAW Task Force of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (of which APA is a member) to field questions regarding how to most effectively educate senators and their staffs about the importance of ratification of the convention.

After the training, division members visited Capitol Hill and advocated for prompt action on the convention, stopping at 14 Senate offices and offering the distinctive perspective of psychologists on this issue.

Although a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on the convention in November, the Senate has taken no further action on the treaty. Currently, the United States is one of only seven countries — out of 192 U.N.s member states — that has not ratified the convention.

Increasing access to psychologists’ services under Medicare

For the first time, members of the House and Senate concurrently introduced measures that would add psychologists to Medicare’s definition of “physician’’ — a first step toward ensuring that psychologists are able to provide Medicare mental health services without physician supervision in every setting permitted by state law.

The APA Practice Organization built grassroots support for the legislation by working with psychology leaders in Illinois, Maine and New Mexico. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). Eliminating the supervision requirement would remove barriers to the services psychologists provide, particularly for people living in rural areas, and should also increase access to psychological care for seniors.

Helping practitioners and clinics convert to electronic record-keeping systems

APA successfully advocated for the introduction of federal legislation that would add psychology practitioners, community mental health clinics, county-run mental health facilities and substance abuse treatment centers to entities already eligible under a 2009 law for Health Information Technology incentive payments from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Under the legislation, introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on March 10, mental health practitioners and facilities could seek reimbursement for purchasing electronic health record-keeping systems. To be reimbursed, the purchaser would need to meet such requirements as ensuring the system meets CMS standards, collects information for assessing the quality of patient care, and can share information with other systems. If those standards are met, practitioners can be reimbursed up to $64,000 and facilities up to $11 million over a four- to six-year period. At Monitor press time, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) was set to introduce the bill in the House.

Supporting school-based mental health services

APA signed on to a Feb. 9 letter from the Mental Health Liaison Group endorsing the Mental Health in Schools Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) to expand the availability of comprehensive school-based services to public school students. APA is a member of the Mental Health Liaison Group, a coalition of about 60 national organizations representing consumers, family members, advocates, professionals and providers.

If approved, the legislation would provide grant funding for public schools to team up with mental health organizations to set up comprehensive school-based mental health programs.

APA believes that making mental health services more available in schools would create a safer and more positive learning environment for all students and strengthen the Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative, the grant program administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Recommending screenings for depression, violence and abuse

At a March 9 meeting in Washington, D.C., Gwendolyn P. Keita, PhD, executive director of APA’s Public Interest Directorate, urged the Institute of Medicine’s Preventive Services for Women Committee to recommend that all adults and adolescents be screened for depression during primary-care visits, and if symptoms of depression are detected, that referrals to treatment be arranged. Keita also called for strengthening the guidelines for screening children for physical abuse or neglect, and women for intimate partner violence.

The IOM convened the committee in August 2010 to consider what preventive screenings should be included in comprehensive guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for preventive services for women.

—C. Munsey