The House Armed Services Committee has included language advocated for by the American Counseling Association (ACA) that creates a true grandparenting process for Licensed Professional Counselors to serve as Independent Practitioners under TRICARE. This groundbreaking language is part of the House version of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)–the legislation that sets the policy and rules for the nation’s armed forces.
The ACA-supported language now included in the bill will allow many more Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) to meet the transition requirements that were included in the final rule published by TRICARE in the summer of 2014. The passage of this provision in the NDAA will allow more LPCs to provide mental health care to service members and their families.
ACA’s recommended language (as accepted by the House Armed Services Committee) is consistent with the work we have been doing for many years on TRICARE, and allows for LPCs to be certified as an Independent Practitioner under TRICARE (a TRICARE certified mental health counselor). In the new language, the LPC must possess a Master’s degree in counseling (not just “clinical mental health counseling” or “mental health counseling”) from an institution that is regionally accredited, or has accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), in a 48 or 60 credit-hour program. Further, the LPC must be licensed to practice in their state and have practiced in good standing for at least five years. LPCs that meet these criteria would be grandparented until 2027.
With the inclusion of the ACA-supported language, Congress has taken a positive step forward in meeting the needs of TRICARE beneficiaries. Recent events have shown that members of the armed forces and their families deserve increased access to mental health professionals, and they are one of the largest populations that seek professional counseling. Thus, the inclusion of LPCs in TRICARE is essential. The signature wounds of recent international conflicts are mental health wounds.
As a profession that is dedicated to delivering mental health services to all who are in need, it did not seem fair for the government to institute exclusive policies that prohibit qualified practitioners from delivering those services. Our goal has been to find a way in which we all move forward together.
With the inclusion of the proposed ACA language, the counseling profession will be fully integrated into a healthcare program without exemption or bias. It means counseling will be respected for what it is–a scientific mental health discipline.
Realistically, LPCs who graduated five years ago and have their license are unlikely to go back and obtain another degree or take yet another test to prove their competency. One of the greatest challenges has been the 2014 final rule mandating that all LPCs hold a degree in “clinical mental health counseling” or “mental health counseling”, which are more recent designations in counselor education programs. For example, an LPC who graduated with a degree in community counseling from a CACREP-accredited program (and who holds a state license) is barred from TRICARE under the current rule. This is why ACA sought some common ground on how best to allow these experienced practitioners to continue providing services to members of the military and their families.
It is important to note that ACA still strongly supports counselor education programs approved by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). ACA is hopeful that all counseling programs will meet this important standard in order to maintain an equitable training program for all counseling students.
ACA does not want military families to suffer because they cannot access the services of a Licensed Professional Counselor, which is why we express our deepest appreciation to the House Armed Services Committee for their consideration of this measure and hope that our members will join us in helping to move this legislation forward.
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