AAMFT continued to make progress in obtaining MFT jobs and paid clinical internships at the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA has agreed to fund 45 paid positions for MFT clinical interns over the next 5 years, starting in Fall 2015. This is a major win because: 1) two-thirds of all VA clinicians started as VA clinical interns, 2) previously no MFT clinical interns were paid, and 3) many MFT academic programs report difficulties in obtaining the clinical internships required for MFT licensure.
VA also continued to post jobs of licensed MFTs, although the numbers of postings are still many fewer than for Social Workers. In 2015, AAMFT expects the number of MFTs at VA to rise substantially as a result of enactment of $5 billion in added VA spending to hire additional behavioral and other clinicians. These new MFT hires at VA bring the total new MFT jobs at VA and the Department of Defense to about 375 over the past 5 years.
Another big 2015 win was doubling the number of our federally-funded Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) MFT graduate students from 25 to 55. This increase resulted from Congressional enactment of the President’s Now Is The Time initiative, which opens the MFP Program to Masters as well as Doctoral students. In the 2015-16 grant year for the MFP we received $793,978.00 in funding for the MFP-Doctoral, and $586,055.00 in funding for the NITT-MFP-Y, bringing our current total funding to $1,380,033.00. This is used to support 66 Fellows (25 Doctoral and 41 Master’s).
This added VA and MFP funding came despite bitter disputes between Democratic and Republican elected officials over federal spending and the $18,000,000,000 Federal Debt. Although we made progress in 2014, behavioral healthcare is not immune from federal spending cuts, such as via the “sequestration” in late 2013, when MFTs (and other clinicians) at the Department of Defense were furloughed without pay for 16 days (Congress eventually awarded pay retroactively to these clinicians).
In June of 2015, Congressman Gibson (R-NY) reintroduced the Mental Health Access Improvement Act (HR 2759) along with Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). We are expecting the Senate to introduce companion legislation within a few months.
In December of 2015 The president signed the “omnibus” appropriations spending bill that would fund the government through September of 2016. The bill included a lift of the sequester spending caps that have been in effect since 2013 and included an agreement to increase discretionary spending by about $80 billion over two years. Among other things it included a $2 billion funding increase for the NIH (the largest budget increase for NIH in over 12 years), more than $1.5 billion for the National Institute of Mental Health, and increased funding to fight opiod abuse.