Exciting News on Occupational Series and VA Hiring

New Law Opens the Federal Government to Mental Health Counselors. President Trump signed legislation (S. 785) mandating the creation of federal government classification for mental health counselors and encouraging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase hiring of the profession on October 17, 2020.

National counseling organizations have spent almost 20 years seeking development of the Occupational Series for mental health counselors. The Occupational Series is the government classification that is required for federal employment. A new Series will allow counselors to have recognition and professional identity throughout the federal system, facilitating hiring, cross-agency movement, and increased pay and promotion potential.

The initiative started to gain momentum in 2006 after President Bush signed legislation recognizing mental health counselors as qualified VA mental health professionals. Over the next 14 years, there were almost a dozen bills, appropriations reports, and congressional letters urging the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Department of Veterans Affairs to work together to start the development of the Series.

S. 785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019, directs the VA to work with OPM to create a counselor Occupational Series within one year from the signature. S. 785 also promotes increased hiring and training of mental health counselors within the VA through a mandated study by the Comptroller General of the United States. The study reports on staffing levels of mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, as well as impediments to expanding access to these professions.

The creation of an Occupational Series for mental health counselors is a long-overdue accomplishment for the counseling profession. The Series will increase federal government recognition and hiring and expand VA employment and training. The bill is a tremendous advancement for mental health counselors working for the federal government, and particularly the Department of Veterans Affairs, and CACREP is excited about this landmark achievement after so many years of advocacy.