Top Veterans Affairs senator pledges to pass major veteran mental health bill

Abbie Bennett
May 21, 2020 - 5:12 pm
JerryMoran

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The top Veterans Affairs lawmaker in the Senate pledged to pass a major veterans' mental healthcare bill in a letter to America's veterans ahead of Memorial Day.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said in the letter that this month he was "working with President Donald Trump and my colleagues in Congress to get this crucial legislation signed into law." 

That legislation is the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Healthcare Improvement Act. It was one of the first bills unanimously passed out of the committee in January after Moran took over as chairman for Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., upon his retirement. 

The omnibus bill is named for 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, who retired in 2012. Six years later, Hannon died of suicide after 23 years of service. 

Hannon received treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, severe depression and bipolar disorder 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 aims to improve mental health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs through initiatives including: 

  • 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.

"This bipartisan legislation will give the VA and communities serving veterans across the nation the necessary tools and
resources to better serve you in several key ways. This legislation will provide funding to organizations already serving
you in our communities across the country in an effort to bolster their work so that you may benefit, and will direct VA to
begin targeted precision medicine research which will greatly improve how mental health conditions are diagnosed and
treated," Moran wrote in his letter addressed to the nation's veterans. "This crucial bill will provide greater access to the care you deserve, improve rural access to mental health care and make targeted investments in promising innovative and alternative treatment approaches." 

The bill passed out of committee but has yet to see a vote on the Senate floor. If approved by the Senate, the bill moves on to the House. 

"Our nation has a duty to make certain that you have the support and resources you need. You are highly capable and
motivated individuals, who are a valuable addition to any community — yet too often the invisible wounds of war can go
undiagnosed and untreated," Moran wrote. "For those of you who might be experiencing those wounds, I want you to know that you are not alone, we appreciate you and you deserve the best our nation has to offer." 

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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.

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

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