(Opelika Observer) – U.S. Alabama Sen. Doug Jones today applauded the signing of bipartisan legislation he cosponsored, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, into law. The legislation will bolster the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) mental health workforce and increase rural veterans’ access to care.
“Too many veterans — in Alabama and across the country — lack access to affordable, compassionate and effective mental health care,” said Jones, a member of the Armed Services Committee. “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.”
It is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day, according to the VA. Of those, 14 have received no treatment or care from the VA.
The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which was introduced by Senators Jerry Moran of Kansas and Jon Tester of Montana, will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in six key ways:
· Bolstering the VA’s mental health workforce to serve more veterans by 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 the VA to better collaborate with community organizations across the country already serving veterans. This collaboration will result in earlier identification of veterans who are at risk of suicide and will provide the ability to intervene with preventative services.
· 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.
This law honors the legacy of Commander John Scott Hannon, a member of the Navy SEALs who served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years. Hannon received treatment for his invisible wounds of war while helping other veterans find their own paths to recovery. Hannon died by suicide on Feb. 25, 2018.
From his position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jones has been a vocal advocate on behalf of all who serve or have served in our nation’s armed forces. Jones has also secured hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for Alabama’s military installations and service members, and he led a successful fight to repeal a decades-old law that hurt surviving military spouses, called the “widow’s tax,” last year.
He also recently introduced bipartisan legislation to prevent veteran suicide by designating one week per year as “Buddy Check Week” to organize outreach events and educate veterans on how to conduct peer wellness checks.