Helena Independent Record: Trump signs landmark veterans health care bill named for SEAL Team 6 leader with Helena ties

by Curt Synness

HELENA – The U.S. Senate recently announced the historic signing of its landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act into law by President Trump.

“In an effort to curb veteran suicide nationwide, Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) – Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee – introduced their bill last Congress to bolster the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) mental health workforce and increase rural veterans’ access to care,” according to Senate’s press release, “while expanding veterans’ access to alternative and local treatment options like animal therapy, outdoor sports and activities, yoga, and acupuncture.”

Sen. Tester described how the new law combines the best ideas “from veterans, Veterans Service Organizations, the VA, and mental health care advocates to deliver innovative solutions that’ll help heal invisible wounds of war” through increased access to care, alternate therapies and local treatment options.

“I couldn’t be prouder to have worked alongside the Hannon family and Chairman Moran to successfully push for this monumental bill to become law,” Tester said.

The late Scott Hannon (1971-2018) – whose forbearers homesteaded at Colorado Gulch outside Helena and was related to the historic Kessler family – was born in Nairobi, Kenya. As a member of a U.S. Diplomatic Corps family, he grew up living in Tanzania, the Soviet Union, England and Belgium, as well as McLean, Virginia, and Helena.

Scott spent one year in Helena during his childhood, where he attended Kessler Elementary School.

“In 1989, Scott enlisted in the U.S. Navy and qualified as a Gunner’s Mate in 1990,” according to his internet biography. “He graduated with BUD/S Class 173 in March 1991 and, upon completion of SEAL Qualification Training, was assigned to SEAL Team Two.”

In 1995, Hannon graduated in from the University of Colorado with a B.A. in political science, having attended school on a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship.

From 1995-98, he completed multiple deployments in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with SEAL Team 5, where he was top-ranked SEAL Assistant Platoon Leader. He served with SEAL Team 3 in the Pacific and Southwest Asia and was named top-ranked SEAL Platoon Commander.”

For three years beginning in 2000, Hannon was assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2, when he operated mini-submarines, and became task unit commander.

“Hannon was the top rated officer during a six-month advanced maritime special operations course, the most demanding joint training available in the military,” his bio states, “and was hand-selected to lead a covered unit in a sensitive ‘Preparation of Battlespace’ mission.

“In 2003, he joined the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known as SEAL Team Six, and was eventually responsible for all aspects of curriculum development and individual certification.”

From 2006-08 Hannon received a scholarship to attend the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College, before working as a special operations and policy staff officer at the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) until he retired in 2012.

Cmdr. Hannon’s resume included military freefall specialist, static line parachutist, NSW sniper (honor graduate), naval gunfire forward controller, lead climber, high performance small boat coxswain, diving supervisor, cast master, rope master, live fire range supervisor and joint special operations planner.

It also included amphibious operations planner, advanced high risk survival and hostage survival, advanced combat trauma care provider, long range MAROPS, expeditionary warfare staff planning and customized military mobile force protection.

His military decorations include the Joint Service Commendation medal, Defense Meritorious Service medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal (three), Joint Service Achievement medal, and the Navy, Marine Corps Achievement medal (two) and Joint Meritorious Service Award, and Bronze Star Medal (Gold Star in lieu of the second award).

After 23 years of military service, and battling with “soul injuries,” Hannon retired to his family home near Colorado Gulch.

“In addition to VA Montana treatment for PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, severe depression and bipolar disorder, he was a committed volunteer with a number of local organizations,” his bio reads. “He was involved with the Montana chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), speaking candidly at events about his wartime injuries.”

Hannon also rescued and rehabilitated injured wild animals at Montana Wild, and provided training support for Lewis & Clark Search and Rescue. He worked with at-risk youth with Habitat for Humanity, as well, along with collaborating with the Prickly Pear Land Trust to help veterans’ access nature trails.

His bio recounts how Hannon was “open about his invisible wounds of war, and found solace and recovery in many of the causes that also allowed Scott” to give back to his fellow veterans and his community.

Hannon was passionate about improving veterans’ access to, and integrating service animals into, mental health care. He also worked closely with Montana Wild and VA Montana to develop a group therapy program for veterans that involved birds of prey.

He was embraced on his journey to recovery by his family, friends, veterans and the community. He died from his invisible wounds of war on Feb. 25, 2018.

“This is a very proud moment for my brother and our entire family, as we celebrate the landmark signing of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act into law,” said Kim Parrott, Scott’s sister, on behalf of the Hannon family.

“This law will provide veterans greater and earlier access to the mental health care they need by requiring the DOD and VA to work together to bridge the transition between military service and civilian life and conduct research in evidence-based treatments.”

Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of NAMI Montana, related how their group worked on the legislation of the bill with Sens. Tester and Moran, and the Hannon family, for two years.

“NAMI is deeply grateful to Congress and President Trump for putting this bill into law and in naming it after Commander Hannon, a dear friend and ally,” Kuntz said.