Tester’s Groundbreaking Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Bill Signed into Law
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member introduced bipartisan bill last Congress to honor Montana veteran and connect more veterans with life-saving mental health care
U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, legislation to improve veterans’ access to mental health care and named for a Montana veteran, was signed into law today by President Donald Trump.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester introduced his bipartisan bill last Congress alongside Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) and the Hannon family, to bolster the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) mental health workforce and increase rural veterans’ access to care, while expanding veterans’ access to alternative and local treatment options like animal therapy, outdoor sports and activities, yoga, and acupuncture.
“This is a historic day for veterans across the country who will now have better access to live-saving mental health services,” said Ranking Member Tester. “This 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. Together, we are following through on our commitment to supporting our nation’s heroes, making sure that no veteran falls through the cracks.”
“Many of our veterans are suffering from daunting, sometimes overwhelming mental health challenges, that have only been made worse by this pandemic, and lack access to modern, effective and compassionate mental health care and suicide prevention services,” said Chairman Moran. “Today, President Trump signed into law the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act that will reform mental health care at the VA by hiring and training more professionals in this field, developing innovative methods to reach veterans with care, and establishing a grant program to better collaborate with community organizations across the country already serving veterans. This is a significant day for veterans, and I am grateful to Ranking Member Jon Tester, President Trump and many of my colleagues for working tirelessly this Congress to get this landmark bill signed into law and improve suicide prevention research, services and programs for our nation’s veterans.”
This law 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.
“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, John 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. This has been a long journey shepherded by the shared vision and leadership of both Senators Tester and Moran, and my family thanks them and the many others who worked tirelessly to make this law a reality. Not only will veterans benefit from this work, so will their families and communities.”
It is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Of those, 14 have received no treatment or care from 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.
“We started working on this legislation with Senator Tester and Senator Moran’s staff two years ago,” said Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Montana. “It’s been a remarkable journey to get to this point, and I look forward to seeing the critical efforts laid out in this legislation to help our nation’s heroes get the right care at the right time for their mental health conditions. NAMI is deeply grateful to Congress and the President for putting this bill into law and in naming it after Commander Hannon, a dear friend and ally.”
“On behalf of IAVA, I offer our strongest congratulations to Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Tester on the occasion of President Trump signing into law the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act,” said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Jeremy Butler. “Battling veteran and military suicide has been, and remains, a very personal priority for our organization, and we greatly appreciate the incredibly bipartisan response to this national crisis. Time and again, we are proud of the work that you do to rise above partisanship on behalf of our community.”