WASHINGTON– Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) along with House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), today released the following statements after the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed S.785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act—groundbreaking legislation to connect more veterans with critical mental health care.
“After working with veterans service organizations, mental health patient advocacy groups, organizations that serve veterans across the country, hundreds of veterans and their families, Ranking Member Tester and I led the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act to improve mental health care and suicide prevention programs for veterans across the country, especially those in hard-to-reach areas,” said Chairman Moran. “Every day we lose 20 veterans to suicide and this pandemic has further worsened mental health conditions and resulted in more veterans being isolated from friends and family. I applaud Chairman Takano and Ranking Member Roe for prioritizing this important legislation that will bring life-saving care, service and support to veterans. Passing this legislation to serve veterans was our top priority this Congress, and I look forward to the president quickly signing the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act into law.”
“This is a monumental day: passage of my landmark bill honoring a Montana hero sends a very important message to veterans—and all Americans—that Congress can come together during politically turbulent times to do the right thing and support those who have sacrificed on our behalf,” said Ranking Member Tester. “One life lost to suicide is one too many, and I thank the Hannon family for partnering with me to honor their son, father, and brother, along with Chairman Moran, leaders on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and countless Veterans Service Organizations, advocates, and veterans in our steadfast effort to connect more veterans with the life-saving mental health care they need and earned. I urge the President to swiftly sign the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act into law, to better treat service-connected mental health conditions and help heal the invisible wounds of war.”
“Today is a win for bipartisanship with the passage of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act through the House today, and I want to thank Senators Moran and Tester for their hard work passing this fully bipartisan, bicameral package and for their commitment to passing the House’s latest package to address veteran mental health care, the Veterans’ COMPACT Act, through the Senate,” said Chairman Takano. “There is still so much more we need to do to comprehensively reduce veteran suicide, but this is a good first step. I’m grateful that Ranking Member Roe has joined me in making veteran suicide prevention a priority, and I know we all stand ready to work across party lines to meaningfully address this crisis.”
“I am proud of the work that Chairman Moran, Ranking Member Tester, Chairman Takano, and I have done today in sending the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act to the President’s desk,” said Ranking Member Roe. “Truly making a difference for the men and women who have served requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. We would not have gotten to this point without the unfailing leadership of President Trump and Secretary Wilkie, who led the way in making veteran suicide prevention a national priority, and the unwavering support of our veterans service organization partners and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. While our work to end veteran suicide is not over, today is an unquestionably important step in ensuring that those most in need receive the support they have earned. This bill carries the names of two veterans who were lost to suicide but it will help generations of veterans to follow overcome it. One of those veterans, Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox, grew up near me in East Tennessee and it is him that I am thinking of today. I look forward to seeing this bill signed into law soon on behalf of Staff Sergeant Fox, Commander Hannon, and the countless other veterans whose lives may have ended but whose memories we will forever honor.”
This bill honors the legacy of Commander John Scott Hannon, a member of the Navy SEALs who served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years. 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.
“My family is overjoyed that this critical bill has been passed by the House,” said Kim Parrott, John Scott’s sister, on behalf of the Hannon family. “Not only does this honor my brother’s legacy, it provides closure for my family. Most importantly, this legislation is a beacon of light to so many more veterans and their families on their journey home from military service to civilian life. Senators Tester and Moran have provided exemplary bipartisan leadership throughout the entire process, and they are an inspiration to all of us. Even in the most contentious times, we can partner and move forward. My family urges the President to sign the bill swiftly so that the momentum can build in providing our veterans with the lifesaving mental health care services they need and deserve.”
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). The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in six major ways:
- Bolstering VA’s mental health workforce to serve more veterans by offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers, and placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital.
- Improving rural veterans’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of locations at which veterans can access VA telehealth services.
- Implementing a pilot program to provide veterans access to complementary and integrative health programs through animal therapy, agritherapy, sports and recreation therapy, art therapy and post-traumatic growth.
- Establishing a grant program that requires 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 preventative services.
- Studying the impact of living at high altitude on veterans’ suicide risk and diagnostic biomarker research to identify depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other conditions.
- Holding the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts by examining how the Department manages its suicide prevention resources.
"We are profoundly appreciative of the significant bipartisan accomplishment by Sens. Jerry Moran and Jon Tester, and Reps. Mark Takano and Phil Roe achieved in the final House and Senate passage of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act," said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Jeremy Butler. "IAVA has made a top priority of this legislation from its beginning and we are pleased that Congress is taking the next big step in combating the veteran suicide crisis."
Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Tester introduced their legislation last year to bolster VA’s mental health workforce and increase rural veterans' access to care with alternative and local treatment options. The Senate unanimously passed their bipartisan bill on August 5. The bill now heads to the president’s desk for signature.
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