How You Can Help Improve Mental Health Care for Veterans
On August 5th, the US Senate passed the CVB-supported Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019 (S. 785) by unanimous consent. The bill, which was cosponsored by Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, aims to improve Veterans’ access to mental health care as well as make necessary investments into suicide prevention measures and support innovative mental health research. The bill must still pass the House before becoming law. A full text of the bill can be found here.
OVERVIEW OF VETERANS MENTAL HEALTH CARE IMPROVEMENT ACT
The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act will improve Veterans mental health care access and options (particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas) in five ways:
- Bolster the VA’s mental health workforce to serve more Veterans by giving the VA direct hiring authority for more mental health professionals, offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Veterans Centers, and placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital.
- Improve rural veterans’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of locations at which Veterans can access VA Tele-health services and offering grants to non-VA organizations that provide mental health services or alternative treatments for Veterans.
- Strengthen support and assistance for service members who are transitioning out of the military by automatically giving every service member one full year of VA health care, including mental health care, when they leave the military and improving services that connect transitioning Veterans with career and education opportunities.
- Study and invest in innovative and alternative treatment options by expanding veterans’ access to animal, outdoor, or agri-therapy, yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, and investing in VA research into the impact of living at high altitude on veterans’ suicide risk and identifying and treating mental illness.
- Hold the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts by examining how the VA manages its suicide prevention resources and how the VA provides seamless care as well as information sharing for Veterans seeking mental health care from both the VA and community providers.
CVB, who is a founding member of the Coalition to Heal Invisible Wounds, has specifically advocated for two parts of the bill:
- Sections 704/705: Two provisions aimed at improving Veterans access to cutting edge clinical trials at the VA as part of the Coalition to Heal Invisible Wounds’ “100 Days Faster Initiative”.
Sec. 704. Use by Department of Veterans Affairs of commercial institutional review boards in sponsored research trials.
Sec. 705. Creation of Office of Research Reviews within the Office of Information and Technology of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Section 305/306: Advancing data-driven biomarker discovery for brain health to drive precision medicine.
Sec. 305. Precision medicine initiative of Department of Veterans Affairs to identify and validate brain and mental health biomarkers.
Sec. 306. Statistical analyses and data evaluation by Department of Veterans Affairs.
What’s next for this bill?
The bill must still pass the House and be signed into law by the President. CVB continues to advocate in the House for these critical measures in the bill as part of our mission to speed diagnostics and therapeutics for those Veterans suffering from the devastating effects of trauma-related brain disorders.
You can help us in this fight: contact our Director of Advocacy and Policy to learn more about how you can become involved with our advocacy efforts on this bill.
Director of Policy & Advocacy
Cohen Veterans Bioscience