BREAKING: Tester’s Groundbreaking Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Bill Heads to President’s Desk

Ranking Member’s top committee priority—connecting veterans with life-saving mental health care—unanimously passes House

U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s bipartisan Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act—groundbreaking legislation to improve veterans’ access to mental health care and named for a Montana veteran—is heading to the President’s desk after unanimously passing the U.S. House of Representatives today.

“This is a monumental day: passage of my landmark bill honoring a Montana hero sends a very important message to veterans—and all Americans—that Congress can come together during politically turbulent times to do the right things and support those who have sacrificed on our behalf,” said Ranking Member Tester. “One life lost to suicide is one too many, and I thank the Hannon family for partnering with me to honor their son, father, and brother, along with Chairman Moran and countless Veterans Service Organizations, advocates, and veterans in our steadfast effort to connect more veterans with the life-saving mental health care they need and earned. I urge the President to swiftly sign the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act into law, to better treat service-connected mental health conditions and help heal the invisible wounds of war.”

As Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester introduced his bipartisan legislation alongside Chairman Moran last year to bolster the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) mental health workforce and increase rural veterans’ access to care with alternative and local treatment options. The Senate unanimously passed their bipartisan bill on August 5. On September 8, Tester and Moran led 33 Senators in calling on the House to swiftly pass this legislation and doubled down on this effort during a committee hearing on September 9, where they urged their colleagues to bring the bill to the floor for immediate passage.

“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.”

This bill honors the legacy of Commander John Scott Hannon, a member of the Navy SEALs who served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years. 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.

“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 life-saving mental health care services they need and deserve.”

It is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Of those, 14 have received no treatment or care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in six major 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 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.

“Commander Hannon was a dear friend and ally in the fight to heal the hidden wounds of war,” said Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Montana. “NAMI is very grateful for the essential efforts laid out in this legislation and for the man it honors.”

“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 (IAVA) 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.”