Tester Leads Hearing on Landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Bill

Ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day, Ranking Member calls on House to swiftly pass legislation connecting veterans with life-saving care

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester led a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing yesterday ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on his landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act—bipartisan legislation to improve veterans’ access to mental health care and named for a Montana veteran. Tester also called on his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives to bring the bill to the floor for immediate passage.

“Our bipartisan bill honors Commander Hannon’s legacy, and aims to better treat veterans in crisis by expanding our understanding of mental health,” said Ranking Member Tester. “House passage of this bill would send a very important message to veterans and the American public that Congress can come together during politically turbulent times to do what is right, and support those who have sacrificed on our behalf. I thank the Hannon family for partnering with me and Chairman Moran in our steadfast effort to connect more veterans to the life-saving mental health care they need.”

At the hearing, Veterans Service Organizations and Mental Health Advocates lauded efforts from both sides of the aisle and expressed overwhelming support for the bill.

“I believe that Section 305 of this legislation will help more veterans receive the right care at the right time—helping to ensure that the hidden wounds of war will not take them away from their life and the people who love them,” said Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Montana. “It will be a powerful and appropriate legacy to a dear friend who served this country honorably.”

“We are so close to getting this critical legislation across the finish line,” said Kim Parrott, John Scott’s sister, on behalf of the Hannon family. “The Commander John Scott Hannon Mental Health Care Improvement Act represents our strong commitment to proactively support veterans transitioning to civilian life. Assisting veterans in healing their visible and invisible wounds of war will help ensure they successfully rejoin their communities and lead productive lives. My family urges the members of the House to swiftly pass this bill, so that we may send a clear message to our veterans that we are taking serious action.”

The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in five 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. 
  • 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.

Earlier this week, Ranking Member Tester and Chairman Jerry Moran led 33 Senators in calling on the House to quickly pass their bipartisan bill. The Senate unanimously passed this legislation on August 5, 2020.

Tester’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is available HERE.