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Politics & Government

Bill Could Make Free Counseling More Available to Veterans

The state House is advancing a proposal to make it easier for military veterans to receive free mental health counseling in less formal settings.

The bill would change licensing rules to allow retired mental health professionals to volunteer their services through approved groups serving veterans and their families, as well as military personnel.

Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery), said her measure essentially relieves volunteer mental health professionals from needing to carry insurance when they're providing free services at a church, library or community center instead of a clinic.

"We do have people who might work for a facility that gives them insurance while they're working at the facility but doesn't cover them when they are away from the facility or doing something volunteer," Harper said.

The issue was brought to her attention by a constituent — a psychiatrist who tried to get a license to volunteer as a counselor to military veterans. He was denied because he would have been offering his services outside traditional clinical settings.

The organization that constituent was trying to work with is Give an Hour, a national nonprofit that aims to connect military veterans with free counseling in places other than clinics.

"We've been approached many, many, many times by people who are retired," said group president Barbara Van Dahlen. "And we always say the same thing: 'We're really sorry, but you've got to have malpractice insurance.' And this is, far as I know, the first time a bill has been crafted to allow those who have retired to give their time in this kind of way."

The measure has cleared a House committee. It moves to another panel for a vote before it goes to the full chamber.