WASHINGTON – This evening, U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) – chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) – spoke on the Senate floor to encourage his Senate colleagues to support the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019.
Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced this legislation to help reduce veteran suicide and improve veterans’ access to mental health care. This was one of the first pieces of legislation passed out of SVAC in January under Chairman Moran’s leadership. The legislation is now under consideration of the full Senate.
“Our committee has been working closely with the VA and the White House to improve upon and advance the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which will make necessary investments in suicide prevention services, innovative research and improvements to mental health care,” said Chairman Moran. “Suicide can be preventable, and now is the time for the Senate to take a stand to protect the lives of veterans who have given so much for our nation. They have protected us and we need to protect them.”
Click HERE to Watch Chairman Moran’s Full Remarks
Remarks as delivered:
“Madam, President, thank you. I am here this evening to discuss a tragic issue that is affecting way too many Americans across the country. This tragedy is mental health and suicide.
“A majority of Americans are encountering unprecedented amounts of stress due to COVID-19, and resources previously used to help individuals to cope, are even more limited. What is more concerning is that compounding stressors and depleted resources increased the likelihood of public health disparities like the one I'm discussing today. If there ever was a time to invest in mental health, it is now.
“In a recent article from The Journal of American Medical Association, researchers discussed several risk factors that put our nation collectively at a higher risk for suicide.
“These risk factors include economic stress, decreased access to community and religious support systems, lack of access to adequate mental health and suicide prevention services and social isolation. This has unfortunately caused a severe lack of personal and social connection, which we know to be a protective factor against suicide. This evening, I want to specifically highlight veterans as they face unique risk factors for suicide in addition to the increased stress around COVID-19. Research illustrates that veterans have a higher rate of suicide and certain mental health conditions than their civilian peers.
“We know there is not one single explanation or reason for suicide and there is no one single treatment or prevention strategy. While post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries are prominent among veterans and are known as an invisible wound of war, we now realize other conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorder also contribute to suicide among veterans and all Americans. Our veterans are fighting new battles, and the stress caused by COVID-19 has only exacerbated these issues.
“Just recently, two veterans from different generations, on different coasts, who fought in different wars decades apart died by suicide. One was a 74-year-old veteran who died on the campus of a VA facility in San Diego, and the other was a former Green Beret here in Washington D.C. They are two of the 20 veterans who are lost each day to suicide. A number we know is way too great. The Army recently lost a respected soldier known as “Captain America.” Master Sergeant Mackesano fought in Afghanistan and according to news reports, 30 soldiers from his former unit have died by suicide since their 2009 deployment. Until the end, the master sergeant was encouraging members of his old unit to reach out and talk if they found themselves struggling, telling them ‘Don't let the valley win.’
“Even soldiers who try to be strong for others find themselves in a circumstance where they don't see another option, and they lose their battle.
“Madam President, another veteran I want to highlight today who fought a battle with his mental health was Commander John Scott Hannon. Commander Hannon’s DD-214 illustrates that he was a decorated Navy SEAL, but he was much more than his service history and the wounds he bore as a result. His family and friends remember him as a passionate mental health advocate for veterans with a gentle heart and a fierce belief in taking tangible actions to tackle big challenges.
“Sadly, Commander Hannon lost his courageous fight with post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorder and the effects of a traumatic brain injury in February 2018. However, he lives on in the memories of his friends and family and as the namesake of pivotal legislation in the Senate that I am pleased to lead with the Senator from Montana, Senator Tester.
“For several months now, our committee has been working closely with the VA and the White House to improve upon and advance the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care and Improvement Act, S. 785, which will make necessary investments in suicide prevention services, innovative research and improvements to mental health care. This bill will establish a grant program that requires the VA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, to better collaborate with community organizations across the country already serving veterans.
“This collaboration will result in earlier identification of veterans who are at risk of suicide and will provide the ability to intervene with preventive services. This is a provision championed by my colleague from Arkansas, Senator Boozman. Additionally, this legislation requires the V.A to bolster research efforts upon brain and mental health conditions expand upon telehealth partnership to deliver better care to our veterans in rural areas, allow veterans to take advantage of emerging, complimentary and integrative treatments, and really so much more.
“This bipartisan legislation received a unanimous 17 to 0 vote in the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs earlier this year, and the time to act by the full Senate is now. We should not wait.
“The increased risk factors coupled with the negative effects of the pandemic, could be a perfect storm for our veterans as researchers from the American Psychological Association noted in a recent article.
“With this in mind, I'm calling on my colleagues to do our part to make certain that every veteran has access to lifesaving care and support that they need. We need to ensure that every VA Medical Center is equipped with the proper personnel, evidence-based treatment options and best research informed care to fit the needs of each veteran that walks through that hospital door. For veterans and servicemembers like Commander John Scott Hannon and Master Sergeant Mackesano, we in Congress have the opportunity to take action to help them know they don't have to struggle alone.
“This legislation will help connect these veterans and our servicemembers to more resources and provide them tools to address challenges related to their service. To my colleagues, we have a significant role and responsibility to combat this struggle, and here today we can do our part to make certain that in the end the valley does not win. In the spirit of this bill's namesake, we must take real and urgent action to tackle this challenge together. As we seek swift action on S. 785 on the Senate floor. I asked my colleagues to join us in our fight against suicide.
“And lastly to the veterans across the country who may hear this message today who are experiencing thoughts of suicide, I ask you to reach out for help. Call a trusted friend, family member or reach out to the Veterans Crisis Line. That number is 1 (800) 273-8255 and then press 1. Again 1 (800) 273- 8255 followed by press 1. I was pleased to know that in the future this crisis line will be updated to 9-8-8. This is because the Senate acted on my legislation, along with Senator Gardner, to designate 9-8-8 as the new national suicide and mental health crisis hotline earlier this year.
“And last week, the FCC announced they will make this designation operational by July 16, 2022. Madam, President, suicide can be preventable and now is the time that we take the stand necessary to protect the lives of people who have given so much for our nation. They have protected us we need to protect them.
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