On Your Behalf

Helping older adults live healthier lives

In a series of videotaped interviews that will be sent to members of Congress this spring, APA Committee on Aging members Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, and Patricia A. Arean, PhD, discuss why it’s important to address the mental and behavioral health needs of older adults and how psychologists can treat depression, boost their medication compliance and ease family caregiver stress as essential members of interdisciplinary geriatric health-care teams.

The videos are part of a campaign sponsored by the Eldercare Workforce Alliance, a coalition of 28 organizations — including APA — that is advocating for more federal support to train health-care providers to care for older adults. The videos will be posted on the alliance’s website.

Joining an effort to benefit military families

APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, represented APA at a March 29 White House meeting, “Enhancing the Well-being and Psychological Health of the Military Family,” which brought together key government agencies and health associations representing primary care and mental health specialties to discuss ways to enhance the wellness and resiliency of military families. Also attending was APA member Barbara Van Dahlen, PhD, founder of Give an Hour, an organization that has developed national networks of volunteers who provide free mental health services to active military personnel, veterans and their families.

Examining the military’s substance use treatment system

Four psychologists are helping evaluate the military’s system for screening, diagnosing, treating and managing substance use disorders among service members and their families as part of an Institute of Medicine study committee.

Psychologists Hortensia Amaro, PhD, Dennis McCarty, PhD, Robert M. Bray, PhD, and Mary Ann Pentz, PhD, joined the 14-member study committee in March. Their study will evaluate the adequacy and appropriateness of protocols used by health-care professionals in the military’s health system, access to care for substance use disorders among military facilities and training and credentialing requirements for health-care professionals treating service members for substance use disorders. The committee will release its report next spring.

Improving care for veterans

Working with support from APA, officers of the Association of VA Psychologist Leaders explained psychology’s role in supporting the nation’s military veterans during a March 10 visit to Capitol Hill.

The VA psychologists and APA staff outlined some of the key challenges of providing care to veterans. For example, staff psychologists are reporting that they increasingly feel administrative pressure to spend more time completing mental health disability examinations for veterans, which leaves them less time to provide direct clinical care, said AVAPL President George Shorter, PhD. Maintaining support for research is also important, he said, particularly for long-term studies that are examining the efficacy of new programs and psychotherapeutic interventions for veterans.

The VA psychologists explained the full range of services they provide to veterans, such as treatment for substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions. Psychologists also participate in rehabilitation efforts for traumatic physical injury, conduct neuropsychological evaluations and help geriatric patients, he said. Integrated into primary-care teams, psychologists are helping more patients who otherwise wouldn’t come in asking for help with psychological issues, Shorter said.

Improving college students’ access to counseling

APA is advocating for passage of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization of 2011, introduced on April 6 by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.). The legislation calls for a modest increase in funding for the Campus Suicide Prevention program, the State/Tribal-Youth Suicide Prevention program and the Early Intervention program, and would renew the Technical Assistance Center.

APA advocated for more flexibility in using federal grants to help meet student mental health needs. The reauthorization allows colleges and universities to use funds to screen students for mental health problems, educate them about ways to get psychological help, as well as provide services to students and hire appropriately trained staff.

Pushing for better access to psychologists’ services under Medicare

The APA Practice Organization sent a letter on April 6 to all House and Senate offices seeking more co-sponsors for legislation that would add psychologists to Medicare’s definition of “physician” — an action that would remove barriers to the services psychologists provide, particularly for people in rural areas. Dentists, podiatrists, optometrists and chiropractors are already included in Medicare’s physician definition. Psychologists are the only Medicare doctoral-level providers not included, the letter pointed out.

If enacted, the legislation would remove inappropriate physician supervision requirements for psychologists, though it would not expand the scope of practice of psychologists, who must follow state licensing laws for service delivery.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced the bill in the House on Feb. 28. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced a similar measure March 3 in the Senate, co-sponsored with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

Evaluating home-visiting programs for families and children

APA members Hortensia Amaro, PhD, and Mark Appelbaum, PhD, are participating on an advisory committee that will make recommendations on a study that will evaluate the effectiveness of home-visiting programs under the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Home-visiting programs provide voluntary, in-home visits by nurses, social workers or other trained professionals to pregnant women and mothers. The visits support prenatal care and preventive health, teach parenting skills and provide other information to help parents raise healthy children who are ready for school.

The expanded home-visiting program was mandated in last year’s health-care reform law. The HHS secretary is required to report on the progress and results of the home visiting evaluation to Congress by March 31, 2015.

Advocating for removing menthol from cigarettes

APA Fellows Dorothy Hatsukami, PhD, and Jack Henningfield, PhD, participated in a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee in March that recommended removing menthol from cigarettes. After spending a year reviewing scientific evidence, the committee concluded that menthol — which alters the flavor of cigarette smoke with a cool and minty taste — increases experimentation and regular smoking, increases the likelihood of young smokers’ addiction and makes it harder for some smokers to quit.

The FDA is reviewing the report, but no decision is imminent on whether or not to ban menthol in cigarettes, the agency has said.

Meeting with the nation’s top mental health officials

APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, and senior APA staff met on March 4 with Pamela Hyde, administrator of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and four members of her senior staff to discuss ways to enhance SAMHSA’s role in behavioral health work force development and to advance shared strategic initiatives in such areas as prevention, integrated health care, at-risk populations and trauma. APA leaders also expressed concern about the proposed termination of SAMHSA’s Older Adults program and deep funding cuts to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network in President Barack Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2012 budget.

—C. Munsey