Historic Veterans Mental Health, Suicide Prevention Bill Signed
A piece of bipartisan legislation was just passed into law, which will help bolster the mental health division of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in turn allowing more veterans in rural areas easier access to care.
The bill's conception is credited to Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Jon Tester (D-Montana). Sen. Doug Jones, (D-Alabama), who co-sponsored the Commander John Scott Hanson Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, applauded the bill's passing, stating it as a milestone to aid veterans' mental health.
"Too many veterans – in Alabama and across the country – lack access to affordable, compassionate and effective mental health care," Jones said in a press release. "Through increased access to local and innovative treatment options, this new law will help veterans get the life-saving mental health services they may need."
Hanson, this law's namesake, was a member of the Navy SEALs, serving in the U.S. Navy for 23 years. He was an advocate for veteran aide, helping other veterans recover from mental health problems until he died by suicide on Feb. 25, 2018. This law will focus on six core pillars to improve veteran's mental health, reading as such:
- Offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers, and placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital.
- Improving rural veterans’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of locations at which veterans can access VA telehealth services.
- Implementing a pilot program to provide veterans access to complementary and integrative health programs through animal therapy, agritherapy, sports and recreation therapy, art therapy and post-traumatic growth.
- Establishing a grant program that requires VA to better collaborate with community organizations across the country already serving veterans to help earlier identify veterans who are at risk of suicide, and allows VA intervention to take preventative measures.
- Studying the impact of living at high altitude on veterans’ suicide risk and diagnostic biomarker research to identify depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other conditions.
- Holding the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts by examining how the Department manages its suicide prevention resources.
According to the VA, more than 20 veterans are estimated to die by suicide each day, and nearly 80% of those received zero treatment or care from the VA.