In another remarkable bipartisan win this summer, the Senate passed landmark veterans’ health and suicide prevention legislation.
The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, or S.785, was one of the first bills unanimously passed out of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in January following the appointment of Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., as committee chairman.
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Hannon was a leader of SEAL Team Two, a member of SEAL Team Six and a Special Operations and policy staff officer at U.S. Special Operations Command. He retired in 2012 after 23 years of service and died by suicide six years later.
Hannon had been receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, severe depression and bipolar disorder through the Veterans Affairs health care system in Montana, Connecting Vets reported.
He was involved with the Montana chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, speaking candidly about his wartime injuries.
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The legislation named in Hannon’s honor is aimed at improving mental health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs through pathways such as transition assistance, expanding care to former service members with other-than-honorable discharges, extending grant money to local groups working to help veterans and hiring more suicide prevention coordinators for each VA care facility.
The 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report found that the number of veteran suicides exceeded 6,000 every year from 2008 through 2017 and noted that a 2014 report found an average of 20 suicides per day when combining a count of veterans, current service members and former National Guard or Reserve members who were never federally activated.
Despite numerous large-scale Veterans Affairs programs aimed at finding solutions, the suicide rate has remained relatively consistent over the past decade.
Last year, President Trump signed an executive order “issuing a national call to action” to right the trend.
The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) — a federal endeavor to coordinate with state and local efforts — was touted by the administration as the first comprehensive federal approach to ending the public health threat.
S.785 is an extension of a new push this year to follow through on that mission. It now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Veterans Affairs ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont., who introduced the bill in partnership with Moran, said Wednesday that “there is no better way of supporting our veterans than passing this bill” and told lawmakers afterward they could be proud of taking actions that helped veterans and would move the country forward.
“The increased risk factors coupled with the negative effects of the pandemic, could be a perfect storm for our veterans as researchers from the American Psychological Association noted in a recent article,” Moran pointed out, speaking on the Senate floor at the end of July.
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“One veteran lost to suicide is one too many,” Moran told lawmakers on Wednesday, urging them to back the measure and noting that COVID-19 and the resulting isolation has exacerbated mental health problems for former military personnel.
“Every day that we fail to act, every day, we lose another 20 veterans to suicide,” he said. “They need our help.”