Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship Program Administrative Policies and Procedures - Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center
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Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship Program Administrative Policies and Procedures

Administrative Policies and Procedures

Psychology Trainee Due Process and Grievance Policy

Problem identification and resolution

Fellow grievances. We believe that most problems are best resolved through face-to-face interaction between the fellow and the supervisor (or other staff), as part of the on-going working relationship.  Fellows are encouraged to first discuss any problems or concerns with their direct supervisor.  In turn, supervisors are expected to be receptive to complaints, attempt to develop a solution with the fellow, and to seek appropriate consultation. If fellow-staff discussions do not produce a satisfactory resolution of the concern, a number of additional steps are available to the fellow.

  1. Informal mediation:Either party may request the Training Director to act as a mediator, or to help in selecting a mediator who is agreeable to both the fellow and the supervisor.  Such mediation may facilitate a satisfactory resolution through continued discussion. Alternatively, mediation may result in recommended changes to the learning environment, or a recommendation that the intern change rotations in order to maximize their learning experience.  Interns may also request a change in rotation assignment. Changes in rotation assignments must be reviewed and approved by the Training Committee.
  2. Formal grievances:In the event that informal avenues of resolution are not successful, or in the event of a serious grievance, the fellow may initiate a formal grievance process by sending a written request for intervention to the Training Director. Please note, the Union cannot be involved in intern grievance procedures as it is not stipulated in the Union Master Agreement.
    1. The Training Director will notify the Psychology Service Director of the grievance and call a meeting of the Training Committee to review the complaint.  The intern and supervisor will be notified of the date that such a review is occurring, and given an opportunity to provide the Committee with any information regarding the grievance.  The Director of Clinical Training at the fellow's graduate school will be informed in writing of the grievance and kept apprised of the review process.
    2. Based upon a review of the grievance, and any relevant information, the Training Committee will determine the course of action that best promotes the fellow's training experience.  This may include, but is not limited to, recommended changes within the placement itself, a change in supervisory assignment, or a change in rotation placement.
    3. The fellow will be informed in writing of the Training Committee's decision, and asked to indicate whether they accept or dispute the decision.  If the fellow accepts the decision, the recommendations will be implemented and the fellow's graduate program will be informed of the grievance outcome.  If the fellow disagrees with the decision, they may appeal to the Director of Psychology Training, who as a non-voting member of the Training Committee will be familiar with the facts of the grievance review. The Director of Psychology Training will render the appeal decision, which will be communicated to all involved parties, and to the Training Committee.  The fellow's graduate program will be informed of the appeal and appeal decision.
    4. In the event that the grievance involves any member of the Training Committee (including the Training Director), that member will excuse himself or herself from serving on the Training Committee due to a conflict of interest.  A grievance regarding the Training Director may be submitted directly to the Director of the Psychology Service for review and resolution.
    5. Any findings resulting from a review of a fellow grievance that involve unethical, inappropriate or unlawful staff behavior will be submitted to the Director of Psychology Service for appropriate personnel action.
    6. These procedures are not intended to prevent a fellow from pursuing a grievance under any other mechanisms available to FHCC employees, including EEO, or under the mechanisms of any relevant professional organization, including APA or APPIC. Fellows are also advised that they may pursue any complaint regarding unethical or unlawful conduct on the part of psychologists licensed in the State of Illinois by contacting the Psychology Professional Standards Board.

Probation and termination procedures    

  1. Insufficient competence:The fellowship program aims to develop professional competence.  Rarely, a fellow is seen as lacking the competence for eventual independent practice due to a serious deficit in skill or knowledge, or due to problematic behaviors that significantly impact their professional functioning. In such cases, the fellowship program will help the fellow identify these areas, and provide remedial experiences or recommended resources, in an effort to improve the fellow's performance to a satisfactory degree. Very rarely, the problem identified may be of sufficient seriousness that the fellow would not get credit for the fellowship unless that problem was remedied. Should this ever be a concern, the problem must be brought to the attention of the Training Director at the earliest opportunity, so as to allow the maximum time for remedial efforts.  The Training Director will inform the fellow of staff concern, and call a meeting of the Training Committee.  The fellow and involved supervisory staff will be invited to attend, and encouraged to provide any information relevant to the concern. 
    1. A fellow identified as having a serious deficit or problem will be placed on probationary status by the Training Committee, should the Training Committee determine that the deficit or problem is serious enough that it could prevent the fellow from fulfilling the expected learning outcomes, and thereby, not receive credit for the fellowship.
    2. The Training Committee may require the fellow to take a particular rotation, or may issue guidelines for the type of rotation the fellow should choose, in order to remedy such a deficit.
    3. The fellow, the fellow's supervisor, the Training Director, and the Training Committee will produce a learning contract specifying the kinds of knowledge, skills and/or behavior that are necessary for the fellow to develop in order to remedy the identified problem.
    4. Once a fellow has been placed on probation, and a learning contract has been written and adopted, the fellow may move to a new rotation placement if there is consensus that a new environment will assist the fellow's remediation. The new placement will be carefully chosen by the Training Committee and the fellow to provide a setting that is conducive to working on the identified problems.  Alternatively, the fellow and supervisor may agree that it would be to the fellow’s benefit to remain in the current placement.  If so, both may petition the Training Committee to maintain the current assignment.
    5. The fellow and the supervisor will report to the Training Committee on a regular basis, as specified in the contract (not less than twice during the four month rotation) regarding the fellow's progress.
    6. The DCT of the fellow's graduate program will be notified of the fellow's probationary status, and will receive a copy of the learning contract.  It is expected that the Fellowship Training Director will have regular contact with the Academic Training Director, in order to solicit input and provide updated reports of the fellow's progress. These contacts should be summarized in at least two written progress reports per rotation, which will be placed in the fellow's file. 
    7. The fellow may be removed from probationary status by a majority vote of the Training Committee when the fellow's progress in resolving the problem(s) specified in the contract is sufficient.  Removal from probationary status indicates that the fellow's performance is at the appropriate level to receive credit for the fellowship.
    8. If the fellow is not making progress, or, if it becomes apparent that it will not be possible for the fellow to receive credit for the fellowship, the Training Committee will so inform the fellow at the earliest opportunity.
    9. The decision for credit or no credit for a fellow on probation is made by a majority vote of the Training Committee.  The Training Committee vote will be based on all available data, with particular attention to the fellow's fulfillment of the learning contract.
    10. A fellow may appeal the Training Committee's decision to the Director of the Psychology Service. The Service Director will render the appeal decision, which will be communicated to all involved parties, and to the Training Committee.
  2. Illegal or unethical behavior: Illegal or unethical conduct by a fellow should be brought to the attention of the Training Director in writing.  Any person who observes such behavior, whether staff or fellow, has the responsibility to report the incident.
    1. The Training Director, the supervisor, and the fellow may address infractions of a minor nature.  A written record of the complaint and action become a permanent part of the fellow's file.
    2. Any significant infraction or repeated minor infractions must be documented in writing and submitted to the Training Director, who will notify the fellow of the complaint.  Per the procedures described above, the Training Director will call a meeting of the Training Committee to review the concerns, after providing notification to all involved parties, including the fellow.  All involved parties will be encouraged to submit any relevant information that bears on the issue, and invited to attend the Training Committee meeting(s).
    3. In the case of illegal or unethical behavior in the performance of patient care duties, the Training Director may seek advisement from appropriate FHCC resources, including Risk Management and/or District Counsel.
    4. Following a careful review of the case, the Training Committee may recommend either probation or dismissal of the fellow.  Recommendation of a probationary period or termination shall include the notice, hearing and appeal procedures described in the above section pertaining to insufficient competence.  A violation of the probationary contract would necessitate the termination of the fellow’s appointment at the Lovell FHCC.
  3. Applicants who match with our site must also be aware of the following Federal Government requirements:
  4. The Federal Government requires that male applicants to VA positions who were born after 12/31/59 must sign a Pre-appointment Certification Statement for Selective Service Registration before they are employed.  All fellows will have to complete a Certification of Citizenship in the United States prior to beginning the Fellowship. VA conducts drug screening exams on randomly selected personnel as well as new employees.  Fellows may be required to be tested prior to beginning work and once on staff, they are subject to random selection as are other staff members. Fellows are also subject to fingerprinting and background checks. Match result and selection decisions are contingent on passing these screens. 

Psychology Training Program’s Stance and Belief in Diversity

The Department of Veterans Affairs is a cabinet level agency in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. As such its facilities and operations are subject to explicit policies and procedures prohibiting discriminatory practices. The policies are strictly enforced.  The Psychology Internship program’s policies and operating conditions conform to those of its sponsor agency. We recruit our interns nationally. Our program’s efforts at recruiting for interns from broadly diverse backgrounds have been rewarded with intern classes that clearly reflect those efforts. On the average our intern classes are composed of equal numbers of traditional (Ph.D.) program students and professional school (Psy.D.)  and students from different geographic areas. Gender is roughly balanced and diversity is represented in various ways in every one of our intern classes in proportions exceeding those present in the national applicant pool.

We believe that diversity is most clearly evident in the individual, and that no program of studies can ever hope to provide comprehensive and exhaustive knowledge about every possible origin, cause of, and influence on individual differences. Our program therefore endeavors to teach interns an attitude of openness to and respect for individual differences, awareness of their knowledge and skill limitations in this area, and ways of continually expanding their knowledge and skills about the influence of biological, social and cultural factors on individual differences. Diversity issues are addressed during formal clinical supervision, during non-formal day-to-day supervisor-intern interactions, in bi-weekly case conferences as well as in formal professional didactic seminars. Additionally, the Medical Center conducts regularly scheduled mandatory Diversity Training sessions for all employees and trainees.

Interns are provided access (emailed links to) and given copies of the APA publications, “Guidelines for Providers of Psychological Services to Ethnic, Linguistic, and Culturally Diverse Populations,” and “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Clients,” at the beginning of the internship year.   In September, the first month on internship, didactics on an Overview of Military and Veteran Culture and Military Culture: Women in the Military are presented to interns.  This is followed by a didactic on Diversity and Culture Competence: Minorities in the Military presented in October.   The Psychology Training Committee decided to focus the first group of cultural and individual diversity didactics on Veteran and Military Culture topics as some of our interns have never worked in a VA or Department Of Defense (DoD) setting and may be unfamiliar with individual and cultural diversity topics as they relate to the individuals they will be providing services to on internship.

The military culture didactics are then followed by a didactic on Culturally Informed Evidence Based Practice.  This didactic was chosen to be next as the VA has made a big push towards the utilization of Evidence Based Psychotherapies (EBPs) and as such the Psychology Training Committee believes it to be crucial for our interns to understand the role culture and individual diversity can have on EBPs and the effectiveness of EBPs.  After presenting on military culture and diversity within and culturally informed EBPs the Training Committee moves the didactic series into more specific cultural and diversity topics.  These topics include, but are not limited to, treating clients from the GLBTQ community, religion and spirituality in mental health, how racism and classism influence psychotherapy, stigma and mental health – simulated experience of hearing voices that are distressing, and chronic disease, disability, and sexuality. 

The Training Committee works together to pair particular cultural and diversity didactics with cultural and diversity monthly topics being offered by the hospital.  Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center has a Command Diversity Officer and Command Diversity Department.  This department works on increasing the hospitals awareness and understanding of cultural and diversity issues.  As such the Command Diversity Department holds events each month in which they have speakers, entertainment (e.g. cultural dance or cultural music), and have refreshments that may hold cultural meaning to the identified ethnic/cultural group.  Examples of some of the offerings from The Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Centers Command Diversity Department are a celebration of Black History Month, a celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a celebration of Women’s History Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, Holocaust Days of Remembrance, etc.  By pairing didactic topics to the Command Diversity Department’s monthly topic we are hoping to reinforce the educational experience for our interns.  As such, we also require our interns to attend the Command Diversity Department’s presentations/celebrations.

While there are multiple specific didactic topics through the year dedicated to issues related to diversity, the psychology internship program maintains the philosophy that diversity should not be viewed as isolated topics of discussion.  As such, in all didactic presentations with the psychology internship program, presenters make a significant effort to address diversity issues related to their identified topic.  In addition to the didactic series/presentations the Psychology Training Program receives monthly articles from the Multicultural Diversity Committee (MDC) of the VA Psychology Training Council (VAPTC) and requires these to be read by the interns and then discussed monthly with the Training Director and Assistant Training Director upon completion of a didactic, this is known as our Diversity Journal Club.Finally, we will provide the fellows with the schedule of didactics and diversity trainings at the beginning of each month so they may be better prepared for each training and subsequent discussion.  Feedback is also solicited at the beginning of the training year to assess if certain topics need to be moved to the beginning or near beginning of the training year based on intern’s knowledge base or if certain topics can be pushed towards the middle to end of the training year based on intern’s knowledge base.

Social Media and Technology Policy

Networking Sites

We do not allow trainees to accept any friend or contact requests from current or former clients on any social networking site (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).  Adding clients as friends or contacts on these sites can compromise the clients’ confidentiality and the trainees’ respective privacy.  It may also blur the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship.  Also, we do not allow trainees to have any communication via networking sites, even if it is through a private messaging feature with supervisors, peers, or clients.  This form of communication does not meet the minimum guidelines for secure communication. 

Additionally, we ask trainees to not make comments, even if it is de-identified, about clients or experiences with clients on any social networking site (i.e. I had a really difficult patient today and I just felt like telling him to shut up).  People on social networking sites may be able to identify who the trainee is referencing, which is a violation of the client’s confidentiality.  Additionally, it does not model professionalism and empathy to the lay person who may see it.

Trainees are free to have a social media presence and it is their choice on how secure they keep these profiles.  However, we do encourage trainees to make these profiles as private as possible.  This will ensure trainees privacy and safety as well as preventing unnecessary boundary issues in the therapeutic dyad. 

Blogs

It is becoming a common practice to have a Facebook fan page or blog as a way to post professional resources or share informed opinions about mental health related topics.  However, trainees may not solicit or ask a patient to follow their blog or fan page.  This again creates a greater likelihood of compromised client confidentiality.  In addition, the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code prohibits soliciting for clients.  And again, we ask trainees to not discuss specific clients or experiences with specific clients even if it is de-identified.     

Use of Search Engines

We ask trainees to not make it a regular part of their practice to search for clients on Google or Facebook or other search engines.  Extremely rare exceptions may be made during times of crisis (i.e. ensuring the patient is alive if concerned about imminent suicidality) and must be approved by their supervisor.  If the trainee does resort to these means, it must be fully documented. 

Email

Trainees’ work email is listed on FHCC business cards and clients may use this as a means to communicate.  However, we ask that trainees do not respond back via email.  We ask trainees to encourage the patient to either call or use the secure messaging system through MyHealthyVet.  This ensures the communication is private and is answered in a timely manner.  It also then records the communication in the client’s legal record.  Also, we ask that trainees never give out their personal email to a client.

Cell Phone

We do not allow trainees to give out their personal cell phone numbers or any other phone number other than the one provided to you by the VA.  Texting a client is prohibited.  

VA Employment Policies for Health Professions Trainees

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) adheres to all Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action policies.  As a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Health Professions Trainee (HPT), you will receive a Federal appointment, and the following requirements will apply prior to that appointment

1. US. Citizenship. HPTs who receive a direct stipend (pay) must be U.S. citizens.  Trainees who are not VA paid (without compensation-WOC) who are not U.S. citizens may be appointed and must provide current immigrant, non-immigrant or exchange visitor documents.

2. US. Social Security Number. All VA appointees must have a U.S. social security number (SSN) prior to beginning the pre-employment, on-boarding process at the VA.

3. Selective Service Registration. Federal law requires that most males living in the US between the ages of 18 and 26 register with the Selective Service System. Male, for this purpose, is any individual born male on their birth certificate regardless of current gender. Males required to register, but who failed to do so by their 26th birthday, are barred from any position in any Executive Agency. Visit https://www.sss.gov to register, print proof of registration or apply for a Status Information Letter. This may be helpful language to include in our brochures, etc.

4. Fingerprint Screening and Background Investigation. All HPTs will be fingerprinted and undergo screenings and background investigations. Additional details about the required background checks can be found at the following website: http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/codification/executive-order/10450.html.

5. Drug Testing. Per Executive Order 12564, the VA strives to be a Drug-Free Workplace.  HPTs are not drug-tested prior to appointment, however are subject to random drug testing throughout the entire VA appointment period. You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement form stating you are aware of this practice. See item 8 below. 

6. Affiliation Agreement. To ensure shared responsibility between an academic program and the VA there must be a current and fully executed Academic Affiliation Agreement on file with the VHA Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA). The affiliation agreement delineates the duties of VA and the affiliated institution. Most APA-accredited doctoral programs have an agreement on file.  More information about this document can be found at https://www.va.gov/oaa/agreements.asp (see section on psychology internships). Post-degree programs typically will not have an affiliation agreement, as the HPT is no longer enrolled in an academic program and the program is VA sponsored.

7. To streamline on-boarding of HPTs, VHA Office of Academic Affiliations requires completion of a Trainee Qualifications and Credentials Verification Letter (TQCVL). An Educational Official at the Affiliate must complete and sign this letter. For post-graduate programs where an affiliate is not the program sponsor, this process must be completed by the VA Training Director. Your VA appointment cannot happen until the TQCVL is submitted and signed by senior leadership from the VA facility.  For more information about this document, please visit https://www.va.gov/OAA/TQCVL.asp

a. Health Requirements.  Among other things, the TQCVL confirms that you, the trainee, are fit to perform the essential functions (physical and mental) of the training program and immunized following current Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and VHA policy.  This protects you, other employees and patients while working in a healthcare facility. Required are annual tuberculosis screening, Hepatitis B vaccine as well as annual influenza vaccine. Declinations are EXTREMELY rare. If you decline the flu vaccine you will be required to wear a mask while in patient care areas of the VA.
b. Primary source verification of all prior education and training is certified via the TQCVL. Training and Program Directors will be contacting the appropriate institutions to ensure you have the appropriate qualifications and credentials as required by the admission criteria of the training program in which you are enrolled.

8. Additional On-boarding Forms. Additional pre-employment forms include the Application for Health Professions Trainees (VA 10-2850D) and the Declaration for Federal Employment (OF 306).  These documents and others are available online for review at https://www.va.gov/oaa/app-forms.asp. Falsifying any answer on these required Federal documents will result in the inability to appoint or immediate dismissal from the training program.

9. Proof of Identity per VA. VA on-boarding requires presentation of two source documents (IDs).  Documents must be unexpired and names on both documents must match.  For more information visit: https://www.oit.va.gov/programs/piv/_media/docs/IDMatrix.pdf

Additional information regarding eligibility requirements for appointment as a psychology HPT can be found at the end of this brochure.

Additional information regarding eligibility requirements (with hyperlinks)

Trainees receive term employee appointments and must meet eligibility requirements for appointment as outlined in VA Handbook 5005 Staffing, Part II, Section B. Appointment Requirements and Determinations. https://www.va.gov/vapubs/viewPublication.asp?Pub_ID=646&FType=2

Selective Service website where the requirements, benefits and penalties of registering vs. not registering are outlined: https://www.sss.gov/Registration/Why-Register/Benefits-and-Penalties

Additional information specific suitability information from Title 5 (referenced in VHA Handbook 5005 – hyperlinks included):

(b)Specific factors. In determining whether a person is suitable for Federal employment, only the following factors will be considered a basis for finding a person unsuitable and taking a suitability action:

(1) Misconduct or negligence in employment;

(2) Criminal or dishonest conduct;

(3) Material, intentional false statement, or deception or fraud in examination or appointment;

(4) Refusal to furnish testimony as required by § 5.4 of this chapter;

(5) Alcohol abuse, without evidence of substantial rehabilitation, of a nature and duration that suggests that the applicant or appointee would be prevented from performing the duties of the position in question, or would constitute a direct threat to the property or safety of the applicant or appointee or others;

(6) Illegal use of narcotics, drugs, or other controlled substances without evidence of substantial rehabilitation;

(7) Knowing and willful engagement in acts or activities designed to overthrow the U.S. Government by force; and

(8) Any statutory or regulatory bar which prevents the lawful employment of the person involved in the position in question.

(c)Additional considerations. OPM and agencies must consider any of the following additional considerations to the extent OPM or the relevant agency, in its sole discretion, deems any of them pertinent to the individual case:

  1. The nature of the position for which the person is applying or in which the person is employed;
  2. The nature and seriousness of the conduct;
  3. The circumstances surrounding the conduct;
  4. The recency of the conduct;
  5. The age of the person involved at the time of the conduct;
  6. Contributing societal conditions; and
  7. The absence or presence of rehabilitation or efforts toward rehabilitation.