Jon Tester (MT), introduced S. 785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act to improve eligibility and access to transitioning service members and Veterans to federal programs such as transitional assistance programs and health care, including mental health care, to reduce suicide rates and improve mental health among Veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health program experienced tremendous growth (86%) between 2005 and 2017. Troops returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan required mental health care services including treatment for PTSD, substance use disorders, depression, and anxiety. During this time VA also identified an upward trend in suicides among Veterans. Homelessness and unemployment were considered contributing factors, particularly for some subgroups in the Veterans' population such as women and minorities.
The bill would:
- Improve access to transition services for Veterans by extending VA health care eligibility to a year after discharge from military service;
- Create a grant program to help Veterans obtain employment and help identify the many non-profit programs available to Veterans in their communities;
- Create a new suicide prevention program to include new grant programs designed to reach Veterans at risk of suicide who are not obtaining VA mental health care;
- Help facilitate post-traumatic growth services through community partners;
- Encourage peer support by organizing education and awareness of Buddy Checks;
- Require VA to track and report on goals and objectives in its suicide prevention plan and direct the Government Accountability Office to evaluate VA's case management program for Veterans at high risk of suicide;
- Require VA to update guidelines on suicide prevention including using gender specific risk factors and treatment options
- Require VA to create treatment guidelines for trauma comorbid with chronic pain and substance abuse; and
- Require certain oversight reports and improve authorities to assist in recruiting mental health providers and increasing Veterans' access to telehealth.
The following resolutions lead DAV to strongly support this bill. DAV Resolution No. 293 supports program improvement and enhanced resources for VA Mental Health Programs, emphasizing the importance of timely access to mental health and readjustment services for transitioning service members. DAV Resolution No. 304 urges Congress to monitor programs in place to assist those service members transitioning to civilian life with access to appropriate federal programs.
Please contact your Senators to ask them to support this comprehensive bill to support our nation's Veterans. Please use the letter prepared below or draft your own letter to ask for their support.