(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) today urged Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough to expedite critical provisions under the Senators’ Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, also known as the Hannon Act, to connect veterans nationwide with lifesaving mental health care and suicide prevention services.
“With an already unacceptably high veteran suicide rate, the pandemic has only compounded the need for swift action to better meet veterans’ mental health needs,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “The Department must move quickly to implement the lifesaving provisions of the Hannon Act. We were proud to work across the aisle to develop this comprehensive veteran suicide prevention legislation, which was signed into law last fall, and now it is up to VA to implement the law as Congress intended.”
Veterans are more likely to face mental health challenges than their peers—with more than 6,000 veterans dying by suicide annually. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated these challenges. A September 2020 study of post-9/11 veterans by the Wounded Warrior Project found that approximately 60 percent of veterans reported feeling disconnected from their family, friends, or community, and half of veterans said their mental and physical health has worsened since the onset of social distancing. Further, 30 percent of veterans reported having suicidal thoughts in the past two weeks and almost the same amount said they are having difficulty accessing mental health care.
Named for a Montana veteran who lost his life to the invisible wounds of war, Senators Tester and Moran introduced their bipartisan Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act last Congress to bolster VA’s mental health workforce, increase rural veterans' access to care, expand veterans’ access to alternative and local treatment options, improve coordination with the Department of Defense, and conduct veteran suicide prevention research and oversight. President Donald Trump signed their monumental bill into law on October 17, 2020.
Read the Senators’ full letter to Secretary McDonough HERE.