Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Bill heads to President Trump’s desk

(Joseph Hennessy)
Published: Sep. 26, 2020 at 3:01 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WIBW) - The House passage of the groundbreaking Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Memorial Health and Suicide Prevention Bill is under review by President Donald Trump.

Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) says he and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.), House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) released statements after the U.S. Hous of Representatives unanimously passed the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which is groundbreaking legislation connecting 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.”

According to Moran, the bill honors the legacy of Commander John Scott Hannon, a member of the Navy SEALs whos served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years. He said Scott retired to Montana where he received treatment for his invisible wounds of war while helping other veterans find their own paths to recovery. He said Scott died by suicide on Feb. 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.”

Moran said it is estimated that over 20 veterans lose their lives to suicide every day. He said of those, 14 did not receive treatment or care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He said the bill will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in the following 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 the 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.”

Moran said he and Tester introduced the bill in 2019 to bolster the VA’s mental health workforce and increase rural veterans' access to care with alternative local treatment options. He said the Senate unanimously passed on Aug. 5, 2020, and the bill is now heading to President Trump’s desk for his signature.

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