Tester’s Landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Bill Unanimously Passes Senate

Bipartisan legislation to connect veterans in Montana and across the nation with life-saving care is one step closer to becoming law

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s 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—is one step closer to becoming law after unanimously passing the Senate yesterday. Following the vote, Tester took to the Senate Floor to highlight the importance of the bill’s passage.

As Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester introduced this legislation alongside Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) last Congress, to bolster the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) mental health workforce and increase rural veterans' access to care with alternative and local treatment options. Their bill unanimously passed out of committee earlier this year with a 17-0 vote.

“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.”

“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.”

After serving 23 years in the U.S. Navy as a member of the Navy SEALs, 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.

“These are difficult times for all of us, but even more so for veterans facing mental health challenges,” said Kim Parrott, John Scott’s sister, on behalf of the Hannon family. “It is a momentous occasion to see this critical legislation moving forward—and it is needed now more than ever. My brother, Commander John Scott Hannon, committed the final years of his life to raising awareness on mental health issues and the invisible wounds many veterans bear. This bill honors that legacy and would enable other veterans to access quality mental health care. My family is deeply grateful to Senators Tester and Moran for their bipartisan leadership on this bill, which serves as an inspiration and testament to how compassion, collaboration, and persistence can move all of us forward.”

“The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is the most consequential veterans’ mental health bill we have seen in years,” said Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Montana. “It memorializes a dear friend and ally, while making real changes to help improve mental health care for America's heroes. We are grateful to Senators Tester and Moran for their leadership in pushing this essential bill, and are especially excited about the Precision Mental Health Initiative that this legislation launches. It provides an opportunity to use cutting edge science to help our veterans with brain health conditions get the right care at the right time.”

“The Veteran Coalition of Northwest Montana is extremely pleased to hear that Senator Tester’s Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is one step closer to the President’s desk,” said Mike Shepard, President of the Veteran Coalition of Northwest Montana. “This bill will assist veterans with mental health issues and work to address the suicide crisis among the veteran community. We are proud to have worked alongside Senator Tester on this legislation that will be beneficial for many veterans in Montana and across the United States. The fact that Senator Tester was able to work with Montanans on the ground to get this bill passed, shows his strong commitment to veterans.”

It is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Of those, 14 have received no treatment or care from VA. 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:

  • Bolster the VA’s mental health workforce to serve more veterans by offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers, placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital, and requiring a staffing improvement plan for mental health providers.
  • Improve rural veterans’ access to mental health care by helping to increase 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 health care 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 health care from both the VA and community providers.
  • Establish a grant program that requires the VA to better collaborate with community organizations across the country. 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.