Veterans Affairs psychology leadership conference highlights VA health care

by Communications Staff

May 28, 2009 — The 12th annual Veterans Affairs (VA) Psychology Leadership Conference attracted a record turnout with more than 160 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) psychology leaders convening earlier this month in Dallas-Fort Worth. The conference is co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA) Practice Directorate, Association of VA Psychologist Leaders (AVAPL) and APA Division 18 (Psychologists in Public Service).

The VA is the largest single employer of psychologists in the United States. Founded in 1998, the yearly conference showcases the highest quality of patient care to U.S. veterans while addressing the professional needs and concerns of VA psychologists.

The annual conference provides an opportunity for participants to share their contributions to this goal while seeking to cultivate growing numbers of psychology leaders in the upper levels of the VA health care system.

The 2009 conference theme was "Expanding Partnerships to Enhance Veterans' Health Care." In his keynote address, APA President James Bray, PhD, spoke about the future of psychology, including two of his Presidential Initiatives, the first APA Presidential Summit on the Future of Psychology Practice and his Presidential Initiative on Homelessness. With the National Coalition for the Homeless estimating that approximately 40 percent of all homeless men in the United States are veterans, Dr. Bray emphasized the importance of VA psychologists playing a role in combating homelessness, particularly in this new generation of the nation's returning military service members.

This year's conference shone a spotlight on the Veteran Affairs Central Office (VACO) rollout of the Uniform Mental Health Services Plan (PDF, 263 KB), designed to ensure comprehensive mental health services throughout the entire Veteran Affairs mental health service delivery system consistent with the VA's mental health strategic plan.

Antonette Zeiss, PhD, Deputy Chief Consultant of the Veteran Affairs Central Office (VACO), Office of Mental Health Services, a key architect of the plan and the highest ranking psychologist in the VA, was joined by a number of her staff in laying out the visions, goals and principles of the Uniform Mental Health Services Plan.

Other conference panels and addressed included:

  • Randy Phelps, PhD, deputy executive director of the Practice Directorate, on APA's advocacy for the practice of psychology, particularly in the VA system.

  • Bob Gresen, PhD, Consultant to the VACO Office of Mental Health Services on "Thriving During Times of Organizational Change," and Kendra Weaver, PsyD, Mental Health Services Manager, Veterans Integrated Services Network, Region 9 (of the VA's 21 regions).

  • Pat DeLeon, PhD, MPH, JD, Past President, APA, challenged the participants to not only ensure the future role of psychology in the VA but to be at the table for health care reform.

The conference concluded with two hands-on practical workshops, "Assessing and Treating Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Within the VA: Unique Opportunities and Challenges" and "New Training Director's Workshop."

The conference agenda and slides that accompanied presentations are available on the AVAPL website.