WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) – chairman and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) – to improve veterans’ access to mental health care. Chairman Moran spoke on the Senate floor on July 21 to urge his colleagues to quickly pass this groundbreaking legislation, which will now advance to the U.S. House of Representatives.
This legislation is a comprehensive and aggressive approach to connect more veterans with mental health care. This bill will bolster the VA’s mental health workforce and increase rural or hard-to-reach veterans’ access to VA care, while making sure veterans have access to alternative and local treatment options.
“Sadly, our veterans continue to struggle with mental health, and through no fault of their own, this pandemic has led to more veterans being isolated from friends and family and cut off from lifesaving services,” said Chairman Moran. “Now, more than ever, we need to invest into mental health services for veterans especially for those in hard-to-reach areas in rural America. The Senate took an important step by unanimously passing this legislation, and I urge my colleagues in the House to act quickly so our veterans can access critical mental health services to help prevent veteran suicide.”
“The Senate’s unanimous passage of our landmark, Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is an important step in ensuring that no veteran slips through the cracks,” said Ranking Member Tester. “Our bill honors John Scott Hannon’s legacy—a proud Montanan and former Navy Seal who served our nation honorably for 23 years—by supporting the types of programs that improved Commander Hannon’s quality of life. And, it goes the extra mile in expanding our understanding of mental health conditions and their treatments, to ensure that we’re doing our part in properly treating veterans for invisible wounds of war. I encourage my House colleagues to quickly pass our bill to put more veterans on a path to recovery.”
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 healthcare options in five major ways:
- 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.
- Improve rural veterans’ access to mental healthcare 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.
- Study and invest in innovative treatment options by expanding veterans’ access to alternative programs and investing in VA research on veterans’ suicide risk and identifying and treating mental illness.
- Hold the VA accountable for its mental healthcare 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 healthcare from both the VA and community providers.
- Establish a grant program that requires the VA 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.
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