Public Policy Update

When the U.S. Army published its first-ever report on its troops' mental health in a combat zone earlier this year (see page 36), APA congressional fellow Patrick Stone, PhD--a Vietnam veteran who treated combat stress as a practitioner for 20 years--jumped at the chance to review the report's findings and possibly shed light on areas of possible mental health services improvement.

The opportunity arose through his current post as a policy analyst for the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs through APA's Congressional Fellowship program. Indeed, the fellowship program's goal is to give psychologists like Stone a chance to apply their unique research training and practice expertise to policy-making by placing them in the offices of members of Congress or congressional committees. Among the benefits for the discipline are a cadre of psychologist policy experts and increased psychologist visibility in the policy process.

Fellows work in Washington, D.C., from September through August, with financial support from APA. APA's Practice Organization sponsors one congressional fellow and an additional yearlong Health Policy Fellow at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, see sidebar).

Meet the 2003-2004 congressional fellows:

PATRICK STONE, PhD

Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

His background: A Vietnam veteran, Stone counseled combat stress victims for more than 20 years before trading his Oregon-based rural practice for a visiting faculty position at Daystar University in Kenya, where he taught undergraduate psychology courses and helped develop a master's curriculum.

His Hill experience: In addition to commenting on the mental health in Iraq report, Stone was asked to determine the pros and cons of closing a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in Walla Walla, Wash. After a series of on-site interviews with staff--from the hospital head to the building engineer--Stone recommended the hospital remain open because he was certain the state's public health system couldn't support the new patients. Stone also worked on veterans' benefits cases--becoming an expert on topics from Agent Orange to nursing home care--to recommend where VA dollars should be spent.

"A saying around here I like is that 'Working on the Hill is like trying to drink water from a fire hydrant,'" he says. "There is a huge amount of information to take in."

His next step: Stone will return to Oregon, not to practice but to carve out a new career that includes policy. "In my ideal world, I could go back home--where I can step out my door and see a deer--and work on policy, maybe teach, maybe go back to Kenya once in awhile," he says. "I'm also going to write more letters to the editor, be more of a part of the mix that stirs things up."

DANIELA P. LIGIéRO, PhD

Office of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)

Her background: In 2002, Ligiéro earned her counseling psychology doctorate at the University of Maryland, College Park, where graduate coursework in public policy and counseling and consulting work in community agencies sparked her interest in working on the Hill.

Her Hill experience: Ligiéro has shepherded two bills aimed at reducing U.S. obesity rates: one to increase funding for nutrition education in schools and another to fund obesity-prevention training for health professionals. She's also worked to garner funds for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, part of the 1990 Ryan White CARE Act that provides medication assistance for low-income patients with HIV/AIDS. Bingaman often tapped her mental health and research expertise, says Ligiéro--exchanges that have taught her how to communicate quickly and effectively. "When I meet with Jeff, we are usually walking to another building, and I have maybe five minutes to explain a situation to him and what I think we should do about it," she notes.

Her next step: Ligiéro has accepted a State Department diplomacy fellowship through the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She'll work for the Global AIDS Coordinator's Office and her portfolio will include Latin American and gender issues. "The year on the Hill confirmed that my career for now is going to be in the policy world," she says.

AMY M. MILLER, PhD

Office of Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.V.)

Her background: Miller earned her family studies doctorate in 2001 from the University of Connecticut--conducting research on parenting and culture throughout her training--and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Her work at NICHD on the impact of Sept. 11 on Washington, D.C.-area families generated her interest in policy and homeland security.

Her Hill experience: Miller began her fellowship by helping organize a conference on homeland security in West Virginia that brought together federal, state and local officials to identify ways to collaborate on public safety initiatives. Miller then drafted homeland security legislation--the Community Security Act--for the senator. The bill, which was introduced in the Senate in May, includes a provision to improve school safety, a grant program for research on homeland security and a grant to provide basic equipment to local firefighters and police officers. "Believe it or not, there are some firehouses and police stations in the country that don't even have computers," says Miller. She also tapped her developmental psychology and family studies expertise to keep the senator up to speed on welfare reform and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act reauthorization.

Her next step: Miller says she's considering staying on the Hill, working on a Senate campaign or serving in the private sector as a lobbyist or consultant.

NATHAN GRANT SMITH, PhD

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

(Health Policy Office)

His background: Smith earned his doctorate in counseling psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2002. He followed that up with a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS at the Yale University School of Medicine, where his research sparked an interest in AIDS policy.

His Hill experience: Smith, who is the William A. Bailey AIDS Policy Fellow, has met with AIDS advocacy groups about their priorities regarding potential changes to the Ryan White CARE Act legislation when it comes up for reauthorization. Smith also worked to encourage the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to accept HIV-surveillance data from 14 states that use an alternative form of coding--an effort that could lead to more appropriately allocated HIV/AIDS funding and enable the CDC to gain "a more accurate picture of what the epidemic looks like," says Smith.

Other tasks include bringing in experts, including psychologists, to speak about youth suicide and children's mental health as part of a series of hearings on SAMHSA reauthorization--work he sees as "laying a foundation" for future achievements. "I may not see the outcome of some of my work during my fellowship, but it's exciting to think that next year I might see the outcome on C-SPAN," says Smith.

His next step: Smith has accepted a tenure-track position as an assistant professor in the department of psychology and philosophy at Texas Woman's University, where his Hill experience will enable him "to go beyond the theory and research in the classroom and really be able to talk about the wider societal and policy impact."

DIANE MARSH, PhD

Office of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)

Her background: Marsh, a psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, has an extensive portfolio of research on families and serious mental illness and is a longtime advocate for psychology and mental health parity. Last year, Marsh presented APA's testimony on mental health needs throughout the life span, barriers to care and recommendations for system reform before the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health.

Her Hill experience: While her Hill portfolio includes mental health, welfare, and children and families, education has been the issue most frequently on her radar screen. "Both of Sen. Bingaman's parents were teachers, and he has a long and distinguished record in education," says Marsh. She drafted language for the Capacity to Learn for All Students and Schools (CLASS) Act, which was introduced in April and calls for education programs, academic teaching centers and other services to improve teacher quality and better prepare students to enter college. She also worked on a bill that is part of the Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act reauthorization to establish better career and technical education programs for high school students.

Her next step: Marsh plans to return to her academic post, but says her Hill experience will inform and enhance her writing, advocacy, research and teaching.

Further Reading

For information on fellowship opportunities for 2005-2006, visit www.apa.org/ppo or contact APA's Public Policy Office.

Science Policy Fellowship opportunity available for 2005-2006

APA's 2003-2004 Science Policy Fellow, Linda Demaine, PhD, JD, is working at the Central Intelligence Agency--her work was covered in the March 2004 Monitor. APA Science Policy Fellows spend one year working in executive branch research agencies or policy offices: Past fellows have worked in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Science Foundation. For information on APA's Science Policy Fellowship program, contact Heather Kelly, PhD.