Pa. may help retired mental-health volunteers help veterans

    An effort to make it easier for mental health professionals to offer their services for free to military veterans in Pennsylvania is making its way through the state House.

    Retired psychologists who want to volunteer their time to provide counseling to military personnel and their families at places such as community centers and libraries are not legally allowed to do so.

    A tweak to state licensing rules is all it would take to change that — to allow retired professionals to get volunteer licenses without requiring that they be in clinical settings.

    It would also eliminate the need for malpractice insurance.

    The effort is picking up steam among lawmakers.

    The measure essentially relieves volunteer mental health professionals from needing to carry insurance when they’re volunteering at a church, library, or community center instead of a clinic, said state Rep. Kate Harper.

    “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,” said Harper, R-Montgomery.

    There is a real need for the legislation, said Barbara Van Dahlen, president of Give an Hour, a national nonprofit that provides free counseling to military personnel and their families.

    “We’ve been approached many, many, many times by people who are retired and we always say the same thing, ‘We’re really sorry, but you’ve got to have malpractice insurance,'” she said Thursday. “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, so it’s really exciting.”

    The change has cleared a House committee. It will now move to another panel for a vote before it goes to the full chamber.

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