Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) announced the introduction of the VA Marriage and Family Therapists Equity Act, legislation which would expand access to professional therapists for veterans and their families. Specifically, this bill would remove an onerous regulation that limits the practice of nearly half of all the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) employed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

Currently, VA hires LMFTs who are licensed through a variety of organizations, including the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) program and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). On average, 30% of LMFTs do not graduate from COAMFTE programs across the nation, and in California that number rises to 95%.

Despite these rates, VA’s current regulations state that only those licensed through COAMFTE may be promoted to supervisory positions. Given the limited pay and career development, this regulation discourages qualified LMFTs from wanting to work for VA. 

“The current regulations for licensed marriage and family therapists at VA are overly rigorous and are not in line with industry standards, which results in nearly half of all the therapists at the VA to be extremely restricted,” said Congresswoman Brownley. “The varied needs of our nation’s veterans and their families must be addressed through the recruitment and retention of highly-qualified professionals. My bill ensures that VA can significantly expand veterans’ access to therapists and that the delivery of quality and timely care continues to be the standard, not the exception.” 

“The VA hires licensed marriage and family therapists to serve as providers of essential behavioral health services to our Veterans,” said Christine Michaels, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. “However, VA policy significantly restricts the ability of these MFTs to be promoted to supervisory positions within the VA, a restriction which does nothing to improve care for Veterans while encouraging MFTs working for the VA to leave for other opportunities. This legislation will remove this restriction and encourage employee retention and continuity of care by allowing many more MFTs serving in the VA the opportunity to be promoted to supervisory positions.”

“America’s veterans deserve timely access to mental health care, here in California and across our nation. CAMFT wants to thank Representative Brownley for authoring key legislation that will make it easier for more Marriage and Family Therapists to provide care within the VA system, reducing wait times for needed services and ensuring our veterans are supported,” said Joy Alafia Executive Director of the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists.

LMFTs assist individuals and couples through interpersonal conflicts, major life changes, and work to develop appropriate coping mechanisms for a variety of challenges. The unique challenges that our nation’s military and veteran families face need to be addressed through robust, wrap-around services, quality caretakers, and holistic treatment, regardless of location. 

Read the full text of the VA Marriage and Family Therapists Equity Act, here.


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