Lawmakers advance bills for suicide prevention, Native veterans to Senate floor

Abbie Bennett
January 29, 2020 - 9:52 am
VA

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In its first hearing of the new year, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed a list of bills aimed at helping veterans, including measures for suicide prevention and to create a VA committee focused on Native veterans. 

The hearing was the first for Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, as the committee’s new chairman after the retirement of Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in December. Senators unanimously approved all 10 bills, which next head to the Senate floor for a vote.

At the top of the list of bills was the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. 

Commander John Scott Hannon, a former leader of SEAL Team Two, member of SEAL Team Six and Special Operations and policy staff officer at U.S. Special Operations Command, retired in 2012. Six years later, Hannon died of suicide after 23 years of service.

Hannon received treatment for post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, severe depression and bipolar at the VA in Montana. He was committed to helping others while seeking his own recovery. Volunteering with the National Alliance for Mental Illness he spoke candidly at events about his wartime injuries.

“Scott was open about his invisible wounds of war and found solace and recovery in many of the causes that also allowed him to give back to his fellow veterans and his community. He was passionate about improving veterans’ access to mental health care and integrating service animals into mental health care. Scott worked closely with Montana Wild and VA Montana to develop a group therapy program for veterans that involved birds of prey. Scott was embraced on his journey to recovery by his family, friends, and community. He died from his invisible wounds of war February 25, 2018,” his biography reads.

The bill is a bipartisan effort initiated by Moran and Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who represents Hannon’s home state. 

The omnibus legislation aims to improve mental health care provided by VA, through:

  • Expansion of care to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges;
  • Transition assistance;
  • Providing private grants to groups working to help vets;
  • Calling for a study of complementary and alternative care such as animal therapy, yoga, meditation, acupuncture and tai chi;
  • Studying how effective VA efforts have been to combat suicide;
  • Hiring more suicide prevention coordinators for each VA.

Also advanced out of committee Wednesday:

Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act: Creates a VA advisory committee for tribal and Indian affairs. 

Highly Rural Veteran Transportation Program Extension Act: Provides VA funds to award grants to veteran service organizations that help transport veterans living in remote areas to VA facilities.

Ensuring Quality Care for Our Veterans Act: Directs VA to contract with a third party to investigate doctors with revoked licenses or malpractice allegations.

Veterans Improved Access and Care Act: Require VA to launch a pilot program to speed up the hiring process for new medical providers to join VA.

Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Reform Act: Aims to improve management of IT projects and investments by VA. 

Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network Support Act: Requires VA to launch a pilot program on information sharing between VA and designated relatives or friends of veterans about the benefits available to them. 

Veterans’ Preference Parity Act: Changes eligibility criteria to include all retired veterans and veterans who are dishonorably discharged to qualify for federal hiring preference if they served more than 180 consecutive days on active duty.

Identifying Barriers and Best Practices Study Act of 2019: Calls for a study of disability and pension benefits for the Guard and Reserves.

Helping Expand and Launch Transitional Health for Women Veterans Act: Directs VA to carry out the Women’s Health Transition Training pilot program through at least 2020.

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If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Veteran Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (select option 1 for a VA staff member). Veterans, service members or their families also can text 838255 or go to veteranscrisisline.net.

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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