Congress Moves on Issues of Importance to Occuaptional Therapy

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Congress Moves on Issues of Importance to Occuaptional Therapy

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Advocating for issues on Capitol Hill is often a case of “hurry-up-and-wait”.   You can rush to meet deadlines, provide input, or suggest legislative language to have an issue tabled for months, or pushed off until the next Congress.

 Last week in Congress was a big exception to this general rule. There was movement on multiple bills of interest to the profession of occupational therapy on the same day that we held a standing-room-only Congressional briefing on the importance of rehabilitation research. Here’s a run-down of what happened in just 48 hours on the Hill last week.

AOTA sponsored Congressional briefing on Rehabilitation Research:

AOTA co-hosted a Congressional briefing with APTA on the importance of rehabilitation research and its impact on the broader health care system. The briefing was sponsored by several House Caucuses including: the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus, the Congressional Military Family Caucus, and the Bipartisan Disability Caucus.

It was a great success, with standing-room-only attendance by Congressional staff from the House and the Senate as well as members of the research community, including the NIH. Elizabeth Skidmore, PhD, OTR/L, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who maintains active research agendas addressing the concerns of the occupational therapy community, addressed the attendees.  The briefing was one part of an ongoing AOTA effort to raise the profile of rehabilitation research. You can read more about these efforts

Reauthorization of Autism Programs:

On Tuesday, June 24th, the House passed HR 4631, the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act, or Autism CARES Act by a voice vote. This bill reauthorizes the programs originally put into place by the Combating Autism Act including: the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), CDC surveillance programs, and interdisciplinary training (or LEND) programs. The following Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed the exact same legislation, clearing the way for easy passage by the full Senate as early as July. These programs were set to expire in September.

 The bill makes several changes to the existing law including increased focus on the needs of transition age youth and young adults, increasing the number of public seats on the IACC and changing the title of the legislation, which was viewed as stigmatizing people with autism. It would also designate an official within HHS to oversee autism research and service and support activities.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act:

The Innovation and Opportunity Act (H.R. 803), a bill that would reauthorize major workforce programs, including vocational rehabilitation programs and rehabilitation research programs, was passed by the Senate last Wednesday. This bill was developed as compromise legislation between the House and the Senate and is considered to be bi-partisan and non-controversial. It passed the Senate by a vote of 95 to 3 and should be considered soon, in the House.

As part of the reauthorization of vocational rehabilitation programs, this bill focuses on integrated and Competitive employment of people with disabilities, and providing training and other supports and services for youth with disabilities transitioning from school to work or postsecondary education.  Additionally, it would move the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research from the Department of Education and into the Administration for Community Living at HHS, in an effort to raise the level of attention given to rehabilitation research and providing supports for independent living to people with disabilities.

 More information can be found here. 

 Movement on Mental Health Legislation?

AOTA federal affairs has been monitoring two bills in the House of Representatives that would make dramatic investments into mental health services. These bills have sparked much controversy, and represent two different views on the top priority for treating mental illness. Despite the sometimes dramatic debate, their existence in the political landscape has been seen as a positive one. Debate over how best to address our mental health challenges was seen as far better than complete silence, and last week this was proven true. A meeting between the main cosponsors of each bill, Rep. Ron Barber, and Rep. Tim Murphy ended with public optimism that a path forward could be found.

 This is particularly important to Occupational Therapy as the bill introduced by Rep. Ron Barber recognizes the important role of occupational therapy in providing quality mental health services: it includes language from the “Occupational Therapy in Mental Health Act” that would define occupational therapy as a mental and behavioral health professional for the National Health Services Corp Loan Program. We will be tracking the progress of this compromise legislation and working diligently to include this language in a final bill.


 Congress will be in recess for the month of August, which usually kicks off the start of campaign season. At this point, very little is done until after the November elections. That makes July the month to move legislation on which everyone can agree, and an interesting but exciting time for those of us monitoring Congress. Last week held the promise of bi-partisan efforts, before campaign season starts in earnest.

  • Thank you so much, for this update. I am the MH SIS liaison for my states OT assoc. and these updates are critical! I plan to get them to send letters to our representatives to get more movement, hopefully!

  • Thank you for your advocacy!  In the last week I have met three different Representatives who told me they got on our Mental Health Bill because of consitutuent letters.  It really does make a difference!