Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) cosponsored bipartisan legislation, led by Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), to improve veterans’ access to mental health care and prevent veteran suicide. The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act seeks to improve VA care by bolstering the VA’s mental health workforce and increasing rural or hard-to-reach veterans’ access to VA care, while making sure veterans have access to alternative and local treatment options like animal therapy, outdoor sports and activities, yoga, and acupuncture.
“We owe our nation’s servicemembers a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. We should be providing them with quality, comprehensive mental health services when they return home. This bipartisan legislation would ensure we’re honoring our commitment to our veterans and giving them the tools and support they need to recover from the invisible wounds of war.”
It is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Of those, 14 have received no treatment or care from the 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:
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, and investing in VA research into 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.
The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is named after Scott Hannon, a retired Navy SEAL who received mental health treatment while helping other veterans find their own paths to recovery. Hannon died by suicide on February 25, 2018.