Tester Successfully Shepherds Top Legislative Priority for Veterans Through Key Committee Hurdle
(U.S. Senate) – The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today considered, and unanimously passed, bipartisan bills authored by Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to address the Committee’s top legislative priority—combating 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 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). During today’s markup, Tester’s bipartisan Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, comprehensive legislation to improve veterans’ access to life-saving care named after a Montanan, passed without opposition. During that process, Tester also successfully offered an amendment, with support from Senators Moran (R-Kans.) and Boozman (R-Ark.), to take additional steps to reduce veteran suicides through a community-based grant program to provide suicide prevention services to veterans and their families.
Senators Tester and Moran first introduced this landmark bill last Congress to bolster VA's mental health workforce and increase rural veterans' access to VA care, ensuring that veterans have access to alternative and local treatment options. As amended, Tester’s bill received broad support, passing the Committee with a 17-0 vote.
“Our bill honors Commander John Scott Hannon’s legacy, by providing more veterans with the mental health care and services they desperately need,” said Ranking Member Tester of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. “This comprehensive approach—combining supportive services with evidence based clinical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs— will ensure that no veteran slips through the cracks. I want to sincerely thank Chairman Moran for his leadership, and for working with me to get this bill where it is today.”
“Losing one veteran to suicide is too many, but sadly an estimated 20 veterans die by suicide each day,” said Chairman Moran. “As our veterans transition out of the military, they are dealing with the invisible wounds of war that often go unnoticed and untreated. This legislation works to expand access to mental health care for veterans by strategically reaching veterans in hard-to-reach places like rural Kansas and providing our veterans with alternative and innovative treatments. One of my top priorities as chairman of the Senate VA Committee is to address veteran suicide by improving mental health care for veterans. This legislation, named after an American hero we lost to mental health struggles, offers critical resources to help veterans struggling with mental health.”
“We are deeply grateful that the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act continues to move forward,” said Kim Parrott, John Scott’s sister, on behalf of the Hannon family. “My brother’s tragic story, and others like his, inspired the true intent behind the language— helping veterans lead productive, rewarding lives after military service by taking a broader approach to mental health care. It is our greatest hope that this bill becomes law, so that it may provide a proactive continuum of support that addresses the specific needs of each veteran and their families.”
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.
“We must ensure that our approach to veteran care is aggressive and united—especially when it comes to mental health,” said Tester. “The bills considered today will help support our nation’s veterans well into the future, through innovative solutions proposed by Congress, VA, veterans, providers, and advocates. I will continue to push these bills over the finish line in Congress, so that we can connect more veterans to the life-saving mental health care they need and earned.”
The Committee also unanimously passed the following Tester bills:
- Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Reform Act- Legislation to improve the information technology system at VA by increasing transparency into proposed and current IT spending on critical programs for veterans. The bill also ensures that veterans receive timely health care and benefits by requiring VA to institute a number of outstanding Government Accountability Office recommendations related to planning, management, and operation of its Office of Information Technology.
- Highly Rural Veteran Transportation Program Extension Act- Legislation to extend a grant program that allows Veterans Service Organizations and State Veterans Service Agencies to explore new approaches to provide transportation or travel assistance to veterans living in rural areas who are seeking care at VA medical facilities. The bill will also make the Veterans Transportation Service program, which allows local VA facilities to hire drivers and purchase vehicles to transport veterans to their appointments, permanent. And, it directs VA to develop a national protocol for administering medical exams for volunteer drivers, clarifying requirements and streamlining the certification process.
- Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act- Legislation to establish the VA Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs to advise VA on ways to improve services for Native American veterans and to provide a forum for Native American veterans, Indian tribes, and tribal organizations to bring issues to VA's attention. The Committee would be made up of 15 voting members to be confirmed by the Secretary by nominations from geographically diverse Indian tribes or tribal organizations.
Full text of Tester’s amendment to provide suicide prevention services to eligible individuals and their families is available HERE.
Tester’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is available to read HERE.