March 18, 2019

Warner & Kaine Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Improve Veterans’ Access To Mental Health Care

WASHINGTON, D.C.  - U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) to introduce bipartisan legislation to improve veterans' access to mental health care and help ensure veterans’ lives are not lost to suicide. The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is a comprehensive approach to connect more veterans with the mental health care they need. The bill seeks to improve care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by bolstering the VA's mental health workforce, increasing rural access to care, and making sure veterans have access to alternative treatment options like animal therapy, outdoor sports, yoga, and acupuncture. 

“We’ve got to make sure that servicemembers who’ve faithfully served our country receive the support they need when they transition to civilian life,” said Warner. “This bipartisan legislation strengthens access to mental health treatment for our men and women in uniform.”

“Too many of our veterans suffer in silence because they don’t have access to the resources necessary to cope with mental health issues following their service,” said Kaine. “I’m hopeful this bill will create avenues for veterans to receive the help they deserve after sacrificing so much to serve our country.”

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 professions, 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 bill is named in honor of Commander John Scott Hannon, a retired Navy SEAL from Montana who took his own life following a struggle with PTSD.

The bill is endorsed by a growing number of veterans and mental health advocates, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), American Veterans (AMVETS), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Volunteers of America (VOA), American Psychological Association (APA), and American Association of Suicidology. 

A one page summary of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act can be found online HERE. The full text of the bill can be found HERE.