Tester Announces Innovative Mental Health Pilot Program for Montana Veterans

VA Montana selected to serve as new pilot site established under the Chairman’s landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act

Montana veterans will receive expanded access to complementary and integrative mental health care under a new pilot program created under U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act—a groundbreaking law he championed last year, named for a Montana veteran.

As the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester’s bipartisan bill bolstered the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) mental health workforce and increased rural veterans’ access to care by expanding veterans’ access to alternative and local treatment options. Among its many provisions, the law established a new pilot program to deliver rural veterans’ complementary and integrative health services through animal therapy, agritherapy, sports and recreation therapy, art therapy and more.

“When our fighting men and women return home changed by their service, it’s on us to deliver the tools that’ll help heal the wounds of war,” said Chairman Tester. “That’s why I fought to secure this new pilot program under the Hannon Act—expanding VA’s footprint in rural states like Montana and providing more veterans access to the lifesaving mental health care they need.”

VA Montana is currently working to stand-up the new pilot program, which is authorized for three years and can be extended by the VA Secretary. The program will be open to veterans enrolled in VA health care who are living with Post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.

The Hannon Act honors the legacy of Commander John Scott Hannon, a member of the Navy SEALs who served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years. Commander Hannon retired to Montana where he received treatment for his invisible wounds of war while helping other veterans find their own paths to recovery. He was passionate about integrating service animals into veterans’ mental health care, and worked closely with Montana Wild and VA Montana to develop a group therapy program. Scott died by suicide on February 25, 2018.

“It’s so wonderful that the VA Montana Healthcare System has been chosen as a pilot site for complimentary and integrative therapy through the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act,” said Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Montana. “I keep a picture on the wall in my office of Commander Hannon and the golden eagle ‘Ruby’ that he worked with through Montana Wild. Those Complimentary and Integrative Care modalities were so important to him, and I know that he is smiling down on this great news that more Montana veterans will get to experience their recovery outside of the traditional treatment box.”

Since taking over the gavel of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester has led hearings and roundtables focused on improving veterans’ mental health during COVID-19 and the implementation of the Hannon Act, increasing mental health collaboration efforts between VA and the Department of Defense, and bolstering suicide prevention and mental health efforts, especially during the servicemember-to-veteran transition.

Tester is continuing to work with VA, Veterans Service Organizations, and stakeholders to strengthen veterans’ mental health resources in the 117th Congress by spearheading bipartisan legislation such as the Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act and Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2021, to strengthen life-saving tools like the Veterans Crisis Line, expand care, and support mental health research at VA.