Tester, Moran Introduce Landmark Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Bill

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) today introduced landmark, bipartisan legislation to improve veterans’ access to mental health care and make sure no veteran life is lost to suicide.

Their bipartisan Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is a comprehensive and aggressive approach to connect more veterans with the mental health care they need and earned. Their bill seeks to improve VA care by bolstering the VA’s mental health workforce and increasing rural or hard-to-reach veterans’ access to VA care, while making sure veterans have access to alternative and local treatment options like animal therapy, outdoor sports and activities, yoga, and acupuncture.

“Mental health is the universal issue facing every veteran, and we need all hands on deck to make sure no veteran is lost to suicide,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Our bill brings together the best ideas from the VA, Congress, veterans, providers, and advocates so our approach to mental health care is aggressive and united. Together, we can put innovative solutions to work to connect more veterans to the life-saving mental health care they earned.”

“One veteran lost to suicide is one too many, and Congress has an obligation to those who have bravely served our nation to fix this tragedy,” said Sen. Moran. “As our servicemembers transition to civilian life, we can ease this difficult process by removing barriers to mental healthcare that our veterans need. This bipartisan legislation, which complements the President’s PREVENTS initiative, would expand efforts in local communities to provide veterans with mental healthcare, would allow the VA to hire and train more professionals in this field and would develop innovative methods for the delivery of this care. Our nation’s heroes deserve the best our nation has to offer and the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act offers critical next steps to preventing veteran suicide.”

It is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Of those, 14 have received no treatment or care from the VA. The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in five major ways:

1.      Bolster the VA’s mental health workforce to serve more veterans by giving the VA direct hiring authority for more mental health professions, offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers, and placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital.

2.      Improve rural veterans’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of locations at which veterans can access VA telehealth services and offering grants to non-VA organizations that provide mental health services or alternative treatment to veterans.

3.      Strengthen support and assistance for service members transitioning out of the military by automatically giving every service member one full year of VA health care when they leave the military and improving services that connect transitioning veterans with career and education opportunities.

4.      Study and invest in innovative and alternative treatment options by expanding veterans’ access to animal, outdoor, or agri-therapy, yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, and investing in VA research into the impact of living at high altitude on veterans’ suicide risk and identifying and treating mental illness.

5.      Hold the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts by examining how the VA manages its suicide prevention resources and how the VA provides seamless care and information sharing for veterans seeking mental health care from both the VA and community providers.

After serving 23 years in the U.S. Navy as a member of the Navy SEALs, Scott Hannon retired to Montana where he received treatment for his invisible wounds of war while helping other veterans find their own paths to recovery. Scott died by suicide on February 25, 2018. More information about Scott’s life and military service is available HERE.

Scott’s parents John and Gretchen Hannon, sister Kim Parrott, and her children Sam and Kessler joined the Senators in a press conference to announce the bill in their son, brother, and uncle’s name.

“Our family is deeply honored to have the Veterans Mental Health Improvement Act named in memory of Commander John Scott Hannon - Soldier, Son, Father, Brother, Uncle. After a full career as a Navy SEAL, John Scott spent his final years advocating for easier access and a broader approach to mental health care,” said Kim Parrott, John Scott’s sister, on behalf of the Hannon family. “This bill is in complete alignment with his beliefs and efforts. Our greatest hope is that this bill will be passed into a law that can provide healing in the lives of tens of thousands of people - veterans, their families, our communities, this nation.”

The bill is endorsed by a growing number of veterans and mental health advocates, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), American Veterans (AMVETS), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Volunteers of America (VOA), American Psychological Association (APA), and American Association of Suicidology.

A one page summary of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act can be found online HERE. The full text of the bill can be found HERE.