On Your Behalf

Advocating for traumatized children

The APA Public Interest Government Relations Office hosted a Capitol Hill Day on June 10 during which APA members and others pressed for more federal funding for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. The network consists of more than 130 university, hospital and community-based organizations as members and affiliates and provides treatment to children who've been exposed to trauma.

Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and APA staff met with key House and Senate offices to highlight the network's efforts in expediting science to service for children and families in need, and argue against President Obama's proposed 72 percent cut to the program's funding. Among the child trauma experts who participated in the Capitol Hill Day were Robert Abramovitz, MD, Joseph Benamati, EdD, Dina Birman, PhD, Mary Dino, Mandy Habib, PsyD, Jacob Ham, PhD, Richard Kagan, PhD, Nancy Kassam-Adams, PhD, Anne Kazak, PhD, Elana Newman, PhD, Elizabeth Thompson, PhD, Juliet Vogel, PhD, and Bianca Walker.

In addition to the advocacy day, APA has been leading efforts to preserve the network's funding through congressional visits, congressional briefings, coalition letters and action alerts. To learn more about this effort, visit APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office.

Campaigning against the sexualization of girls

Building on its April Advocacy Against Sexualization Summit, APA has developed a strategic plan to help youth, parents, teachers and the media counteract the sexualization of girls. The plan includes:

  • Developing a fact sheet for teachers that explains the negative effects of sexualization on girls' achievement.

  • Using social media to reach young girls and parents with educational messages combating sexualization and celebrating girls' achievements in sports and school.

  • Building support for the Healthy Media for Youth Act in Congress, legislation that would, among other goals, provide funding to conduct research on how depictions of women and girls in the media affect youth.

  • Organizing a briefing for federal agencies to showcase the psychological research on sexualization.

  • Participating in the "Day of the Girl" on Sept. 22 to advance the civil rights and educational status of girls worldwide.

Safeguarding sexual minority students

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in middle and high school often suffer discrimination and bias damaging to their psychological health and academic success, testified Greg Herek, PhD, and Ilan Meyer, PhD, at a briefing held May 13 by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.

The briefing focused on enforcing federal civil rights laws to protect students against bullying, violence and harassment. Herek, of the University of California Davis, told the commission that students harassed on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation were more than twice as likely to report depression and to seriously consider suicide. Meyer, of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, explained how a hostile social environment damages students' psychological health, and noted that school social support programs can help.

Alerting Congress about LGBT discrimination

APA sent a legislative action alert on May 18 urging members to contact their congressional representatives and seek support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2011, which would prohibit employers from hiring, firing, promoting or giving raises based on employees' sexual orientation or gender identity. It's currently legal to fire people based on their sexual orientation in 29 states, and it's legal to dismiss workers based on their gender identity in 37 states. Discriminatory workplace practices targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people harm their mental health and are detrimental to the well-being of all employees, APA's action alert said.

Getting psychologists included in Medicare accountable care organizations

In response to strong advocacy by APA, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has included clinical psychologists on the list of providers who can join accountable care organizations (ACOs), networks of physicians, hospitals and other health-care providers that provide coordinated care to enrolled Medicare patients. Patients enroll voluntarily in ACOs, and the networks can't limit where a patient goes for services.

APA's CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, and Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, executive director for professional practice, thanked Sebelius for her decision in a letter June 3. "When an ACO includes clinical psychologists as participants, it better ensures integration of mental and behavioral health and substance use disorder services with physical health services and a more comprehensive integrated care system," they wrote.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, ACOs could provide better, more cost-efficient health care to Medicare patients, saving as much as $960 million over three years if coordinated care became widespread.

Defending science research funding

Federal research funding for the social, behavioral and economic sciences continued to come under attack in Congress this spring and summer, driven by doubts about the legitimacy of behavioral and social sciences and political pressure to reduce federal spending.

To defend important research programs against cuts, APA's Science Government Relations Office is highlighting the contributions of psychology researchers to critical national problems.

Key actions this spring and summer included:

  • Defending specific programs. In May, APA helped defeat an amendment that would have stripped research funding from the Office of Naval Research's Human Social Culture Behavior Modeling Program, which uses psychological research to help sailors and Marines navigate unfamiliar cultures. APA emailed an alert to House members urging them to vote against the amendment.

  • Defending social and behavioral science funding. APA member and psychology researcher Hillary Anger Elfenbein, PhD, testified at a House subcommittee oversight hearing June 2 on the National Science Foundation's Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate's research portfolio. She argued for the importance of behavioral research, and pointed out that the directorate received $255 million in congressional funding in 2010, compared with $1.35 billion for the NSF's Directorate of Math and Physical Sciences.

At the hearing, one witness called for eliminating federal funding for social, behavioral and economic research entirely, and the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) later argued for agencies to distinguish between the value of "basic science" such as physics, math and materials development and the social sciences.

To help educate Brooks about the distinction between "hard" and "soft" sciences, Heather Kelly, PhD, and APA Executive Director for Science Steve Breckler, PhD, met with Brooks at his Capitol Hill office on June 21. In addition to follow-up meetings with Brooks and his staff, APA will press for continued recognition of the integrity of the peer-review process, promote grassroots advocacy from the scientific community, build coalitions with other scientific and academic organizations, publicize the value of federally funded research, and fight legislation targeting scientific research funding.

Promoting programs for people with disabilities

Disability programsUnemployed people with disabilities have been found to experience twice as much psychological distress as their employed counterparts—showing that jobs provide both financial and mental health benefits, according to Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, PhD, APA's Public Interest executive director. Keita submitted a statement for the May 12 congressional forum in Washington, D.C., organized by the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that advises the president, Congress and federal agencies about policies affecting the lives of people with disabilities.

Given that unemployment rates among people with disabilities are at an all-time high, Keita urged continued federal support for employment programs and services for people with disabilities. Research shows that hiring people with disabilities is a wise business decision, she said. "Individuals with disabilities have been shown to have lower rates of absenteeism, higher job retention rates, and equal or higher performance rating on the job than individuals without disabilities," she said.

Protecting Medicare patients' access to psychological services

The APA Practice Organization (APAPO) is supporting legislation that would get rid of an advisory panel created by the 2010 health-care reform law to reduce Medicare costs. APAPO argues that the panel would hold down Medicare costs by unfairly singling out psychology practitioners and other health professionals for cuts. That's because, by law, the board can't cut payments to hospitals until fiscal year 2020. The board is also prohibited from changing eligibility rules or requiring Medicare patients to pay greater out-of-pocket costs. Despite these restrictions, the board must recommend cuts if Medicare's annual costs are projected to grow faster than inflation.

Cutting Medicare payments to practitioners could force them to limit the number of Medicare patients they accept or even close their practices, APAPO argues, and that would decrease Medicare patients' access to mental health care.

The board will deliver its first set of recommendations to Congress by September 2014, for the fiscal 2015 budget.

VA Conference

(LtoR) Dr. Antonette Zeiss, acting deputy chief patient care services officer for mental health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Dr. Diane Elmore, associate executive director, APA Public Interest Government Relations (credit: Mathew SturtevantVeterans need patient-centered care Health care for veterans should "revolve around the patient instead of the patient revolving around the system," said Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health George W. Arana, MD, at the May 18–21 VA Psychology Leadership Conference in San Antonio.

Arana congratulated VA psychologists on their contributions to VA's transformational efforts to deliver care that's team based, data driven and patient centered.

The conference, held every year since 1998 and sponsored by APA's Practice Directorate, the Association of VA Psychologist Leaders and Div. 18 (Psychologists in Public Service), enables psychology leaders to discuss the best ways to improve care for the nation's veterans.

This year, APA President Melba J.T. Vasquez, PhD, reported on APA's policy and advocacy efforts on behalf of veterans and their families, including supporting recent legislation aiding family caregivers of veterans, seeking increased VA research funding, and providing congressional testimony on veteran suicide and the needs of veterans on college and university campuses.

Vasquez also announced that APA will co-sponsor a conference with the University of Utah and its National Center for Veterans in September on suicide risk and treatment, which will include key representatives from the VA and Department of Defense.

View a slide show of the VA conference attendees and speakers.

(L to R) Dr. Linda Bodie, President, Div. 18 (Psychologists in Public Service); Dr. Randy Phelps, APA deputy executive director for professional practice; Dr. Lisa Kearney, conference chair; Dr. George Arana, acting assistant deputy under secretary for health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Dr. Katherine C. Nordal, APA executive director for professional practice; Dr. George Shorter, president, Association of VA Psychologist Leaders (credit: Mathew Sturtevant)

—C. Munsey