FRA NewsBytes - 08-08-2014

In this issue:
President Obama Signs Bipartisan Veterans Reform Bill into Law
New VA Secretary Announces Town Hall Events across the Nation
SecDef Orders Military Health Care Review
TRICARE Increases Access to Qualified Mental Health Counselors


President Obama Signs Bipartisan Veterans Reform Bill into Law
FRA NED Thomas Snee attended a bill-signing ceremony to watch as President Obama signed into law House- and Senate-passed legislation (Conference Committee report for H.R. 3230) to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill, known as the “Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act,” takes steps to ensure veterans receive care in a timely fashion at the VA, and also strengthens accountability and transparency within the department. For reference, a list of key FRA-supported provisions is provided in last week’s NewsBytes.


New VA Secretary Announces Town Hall Events across the Nation
The newly-confirmed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald has directed all Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare and benefits facilities to hold town hall events by the end of September in an effort to improve communication with, and hear directly from, veterans nationwide.

“Caring for veterans is a calling, and our first commitment is to provide veterans and their families the timely, quality care and benefits they have earned and deserve through their service to our Nation,” said Secretary McDonald. “As we seek continual improvement and to rebuild trust among veterans, it is critical that we continue to listen and learn directly from those who use our system.”

Secretary McDonald has informed the Under Secretaries of Health and Benefits that each VA medical center and regional office should hold at least one town hall meeting with veterans between now and the end of September. Meetings are designed to allow feedback from veterans, family members and other beneficiaries. Each facility will also welcome input from Congressional stakeholders, Veteran Service Organizations (VSO), Non-Governmental Organizations, and other community partners. Details of events in each location will be forthcoming from local facilities.


SecDef Orders Military Health Care Review
Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Chuck Hagel recently ordered a comprehensive review of the Department of Defense (DoD) health care system. The 90-day review will be led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, with the assistance of the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness and the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and the direct participation of the secretaries of the military departments and the service chiefs. In addition, Secretary Hagel has asked Deputy Secretary Work to solicit the perspectives of outside experts in the areas of patient safety and quality care. The review will focus on the core areas of access to health care, safety of care, and quality of care, and the final report to be delivered to him no later than August 29.


TRICARE Increases Access to Qualified Mental Health Counselors
The Defense Health Agency (DHA) has recently announced that TRICARE beneficiaries can now choose between two qualified mental health counselor types: independently practicing TRICARE Certified Mental Health Counselors (TCMHC) and Supervised Mental Health Counselors (SMHC).

TRICARE will authorize TCMHCs as independent providers who meet specific qualification criteria. They must have a master’s degree from a mental health counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) by Jan. 1, 2017. TCMHCs can independently treat TRICARE beneficiaries as well as oversee SMHCs. SMHCs will continue to practice under the referral and supervision of TRICARE-authorized physicians while getting the required 3,000 hours of post-master’s clinical practice to become a TCMHC.

Some beneficiaries may worry they won’t be able to continue seeing their current mental health care provider under this new guidance. “This does not have to be a concern,” says Patricia G. Moseley, Ph.D., military child and family behavioral health senior policy analyst at the Defense Health Agency. “Providers have an extended time period to gain the necessary credentials to become authorized for independent practice under TRICARE, if they aren't already. This rule gives providers more time to meet the requirements and allows beneficiaries to keep their current Supervised Mental Health Counselors.”

The Defense Health Agency is tasked with making military medicine stronger, better and more relevant for the future. This change moves us one step closer to the goal of ensuring the availability of well-qualified, independent providers for our beneficiaries. For more information about TRICARE mental health coverage, visit www.tricare.mil/mentalhealth.