House, Senate NDAA Versions Would Improve Military Mental Health Access

House, Senate NDAA Versions Would Improve Military Mental Health Access
Photo by Senior Airman Alexa Culbert/Air Force

MOAA regularly hears from uniformed servicemembers, retirees, and their families who struggle to find mental health care amid national provider shortages and surging demand for services. That’s why we made improved access to this care a top priority for the 117th Congress – and why we’re pleased to see several provisions addressing this issue included in the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) process.


[ACT NOW: Ask Your Lawmakers to Improve Mental Health Care Access]


Throughout the 117th Congress, MOAA has worked to raise awareness on Capitol Hill of a 2020 DoD Inspector General report validating barriers servicemembers and their families face in accessing mental health care.


The House has responded with several provisions in its version of the NDAA – H.R. 7900 – aimed at improving access to care:

  • Incentive Payments for Retention of Certain Behavioral Health Providers (Section 729): Directs DoD to increase the use of incentive payments for civilian behavioral health providers, prioritizing those stationed at remote installations. Also requires a DoD report to Congress on the effectiveness of increased incentive payments for improved retention.

  • Non-Medical Counseling Services for Military Families (Section 763): Provides licensure flexibility for providers delivering non-medical counseling as part of the Military and Family Counseling program (MOAA supported the standalone COMFORT Act, H.R. 5758/S. 3012).

  • Improvements Relating to Behavioral Health Care Available Under Military Health System (Section 767): Establishes a scholarship-for-service program for those seeking behavioral health graduate degrees. Expands Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) graduate degree behavioral health programs and establishes service obligations for USU graduates who do not become uniformed servicemembers to work as behavioral health providers in the military health system.

  • Department of Defense Internship Programs Relating to Civilian Behavioral Health Providers (Section 769): Establishes DoD pre- and post-graduate internship programs for the purposes of training psychologists to work as covered civilian behavioral health providers together with related service obligations.


While the Senate is still working on its version, Section 746 of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup establishes a DoD program to provide scholarships or student loan repayment assistance to graduate level behavioral health providers in exchange for a commitment to work in the direct care system of military hospitals and clinics.


The House passed its version of the annual defense authorization bill in July, and the Senate will move forward in the next few weeks to consider amendments and complete a floor vote on its version. Once the versions have passed their respective chambers, the legislation moves into conference to resolve differences between the bills.


While MOAA was disappointed at the lack of support for our related spring advocacy campaign topic – the Stop Copay Overpay Act, which would reduce TRICARE mental health copays – we appreciate Congress’ efforts within the NDAA to address mental health care access challenges. MOAA will work to support these provisions throughout the NDAA process and looks forward to once again tackling the mental health copay issue when the 118th Congress begins next year.


Please consider joining us by urging your lawmakers to support FY 2023 NDAA provisions to improve military family access to mental health care.


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About the Author

Karen Ruedisueli
Karen Ruedisueli

Ruedisueli is MOAA’s Director of Government Relations for Health Affairs and also serves as co-chair of The Military Coalition’s (TMC) Health Care Committee. She spent six years with the National Military Family Association, advocating for families of the uniformed services with a focus on health care and military caregivers.