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VA Against SAFE Act Reporting Requirement

8:28 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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The Department of Veterans Affairs has come out against a portion of the new gun control law that requires mental health professionals to report patients who are likely to hurt themselves or others.

Some mental healthcare providers agree, saying the SAFE Act will stop some people from getting the help they need for their mental health issues.

Saturday, part of the new SAFE Act gun control law goes into effect making it mandatory for mental health professionals to tell their local Director of Community Services about patients they think are at risk of harming themselves or others.

Tuesday, the VA issued a statement on the SAFE Act. The statement says: "Federal laws safeguarding the confidentiality of Veterans' treatment records do not authorize VA mental-health professionals to comply with this NY State law."

The VA cites the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution as the reason for non-compliance.

Graciela Rodriguez is not only a licensed social worker, she is also a U.S. Air Force veteran, having served four years of active duty. Now, she helps patients work through their mental health issues at Lake Shore Behavioral Health in Buffalo.

"It would impact the therapeutic relationship between the client and myself. If a veteran came to see me for counseling, I feel that they would not be as open. If would affect the engagement and the rapport building because they understand that this new gun law is in effect," she says in response to the SAFE Act.

Richanne Mankey, the Dean of Students at Daemen College, agrees.

"We want everybody to be safe, and we want everyone who's feeling volatile to seek help when they're feeling volatile or before they're feeling volatile," says Mankey.

Mankey also says it is tough enough for many students who are veterans to come forward to seek professional help for their mental health issues in the first place. While she thinks the SAFE Act is well intended, she sees flaws.

"We want our counselors to be within their ethical standards, and we want them to act within the law and we want people to be safe, so that's the clarification that we need. How do those things mix?" she asks.

Rodriguez is concerned the mandatory reporting to DCS will double up her work when she could be spending more time helping patients.

"It's already something we that we do. This is just something else that we're mandated to do now and I don't feel, it's just another roadblock, I feel," says Rodriguez.

So who is required to report under the SAFE Act? Under state law "mental health professionals" include physicians, psychologists, registered nurses, and licensed clinical social workers like Rodriguez.

A report is not required when, in the mental health provider's professional judgment, a report would endanger him or her or would increase the danger to the potential victim or victims.

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