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Bipartisan legislation provides comprehensive approach to connect veterans with mental health care

WASHINGTON – Today, during Sen. Jerry Moran’s (R-Kan.) first committee markup as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Committee, the VA Committee passed landmark legislation to improve mental health care for veterans. The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, sponsored by Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.), is a comprehensive and aggressive strategy to reach more veterans with the mental health care they need.

“Losing one veteran to suicide is too many, but sadly an estimated 20 veterans die by suicide each day,” said Chairman Moran. “As our veterans transition out of the military, they are dealing with the invisible wounds of war that often go unnoticed and untreated. This legislation works to expand access to mental health care for veterans by strategically reaching veterans in hard-to-reach places like rural Kansas and providing our veterans with alternative and innovative treatments. One of my top priorities as chairman of the Senate VA Committee is to address veteran suicide by improving mental health care for veterans. This legislation, named after an American hero we lost to mental health struggles, offers critical resources to help veterans struggling with mental health.”

“Our bill honors Commander John Scott Hannon’s legacy, by providing more veterans with the mental health care and services they desperately need,” said Ranking Member Tester. “This comprehensive approach—combining supportive services with evidence based clinical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs— will ensure that no veteran slips through the cracks. I want to sincerely thank Chairman Moran for his leadership, and for working with me to get this bill where it is today.”

The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act will improve outreach to veterans and offer new mental health care options in five major ways:

  1. Bolster the VA’s mental health workforce to serve more veterans by giving the VA direct hiring authority for more mental health professionals, offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers and placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital.
  2. Improve rural veterans’ access to mental health care 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.
  3. Strengthen support and assistance for servicemembers transitioning out of the military by automatically giving every servicemember one full year of VA health care when they leave the military and improving services that connect transitioning veterans with career and education opportunities.
  4. Study and invest in innovative and alternative treatment options by expanding veterans’ access to animal, outdoor or agri-therapy, yoga, meditation and acupuncture. Investing in VA research on the impact of living at high altitude on veterans’ suicide risk and identifying and treating mental illness.
  5. 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.