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Veteran Suicide Prevention Legislation Passes House

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A Meaningful Step Toward Veteran Suicide Prevention

LATEST: As of Wednesday, September 24th, this bill has passed the House and is now being sent to the White House, where it is expected to be signed by President Trump.

Suicides in the U.S. continue to rise at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate in the U.S. has climbed 35% since 1999. While this statistic is alarming in its own right, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that (after adjusting the numbers for age and gender), veterans are committing suicide at a rate of about 1.5 times that of the general population.

A survey of members of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), taken last December and January reported that 44% admitted to having thoughts about suicide since joining the military, and 62% reported knowing a veteran who died by suicide.

Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act

Though an estimated 20 veterans commit suicide every day, according to U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Mark Warner (D-VA), studies show that typically only six of that 20 had been receiving healthcare services at the VA during the time leading up to their death.

For many years, VA resources have been stretched thin, resulting in long wait times and access bottlenecks. According to one 2018 evaluation conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, more than half of VA facilities were “below or far below the benchmark” for timely access to mental healthcare.

That’s why senators Boozman and Warner have proposed the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.

The Bill Has Passed Both the Senate and the House of Representatives

On August 5th, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed that landmark legislation.  The legislation is named to honor the legacy of retired Navy SEAL Commander John Scott Hannon.  He served for 23 years and died by suicide in February of 2018, after a courageous battle against post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and bipolar disorder.

The bill, as of September 23, 2020, has now passed the House of Representatives.  It will now be sent to the White House, where President Trump is expected to sign it.

The Bill Aims to Enhance Coordination and Planning to Prevent Suicides

The bill is focused on efforts to prevent veteran suicides and improve mental health outcomes through improved access to care, better diagnostic tools, and increased oversight of VA programs. The bill includes provisions from the IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act which was introduced in June 2019.

Its aim is to enhance coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services, and better measure the effectiveness of those programs. The bill would significantly expand mental health access and reach more veterans in high-need geographic areas by awarding three-year grants to organizations that have a proven track record in suicide prevention. It would also include increased access to telehealth services in underserved areas.

Bringing outside organizations into the fold and sharing information and resources with the common goal of savings lives would significantly expand mental health access, better-leverage existing community resources, and reach more veterans in high-need geographic areas. In addition to expanding  access, this strategy would cut down on wait times for its mental healthcare patients.

The Bill’s Objectives and Services

In simple terms, the broad objectives of this bill are:

  • To enable the VA to directly or indirectly reach more veterans than it currently does.
  • To increase coordination among currently disparate community resources which play a part in reducing suicide
  • To create and inspire broad adoption of a measurement tool that will indicate effectiveness of services provided for veterans suicide prevention.

Services would include, but not be limited to:

  • Mental health consultations
  • Medication management
  • Therapy
  • Employment and job training resources

President Trump is supportive of the solution outlined in the IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act and included the approach in the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) which was rolled out at the White House earlier this summer.  Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) were the original cosponsors of the legislation.





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