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US Senate-passed bills improve healthcare for veterans

In recent days the U.S. Senate has passed legislation relating to healthcare for veterans.

The Senate passed the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019, legislation to improve outreach to veterans and offer new mental health treatment options under the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Our veterans deserve access to the best care, and this legislation we’ve advanced takes important steps to strengthen the VA”s mental health care options,” said Sen. John Hoeven, a member of the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Committee, in a news release. Hoeven co-sponsored the legislation.

Specifically, the act includes the following provisions to:

– Expand the VA’s research into hyperbaric oxygen therapy HBOT. Requires the VA to study and report on the effectiveness of this alternative treatment option in partnership with private organizations, a provision offered by Sen. Kevin Cramer.

“On Saturday (Aug. 1) I heard another compelling story from a North Dakota veteran named AJ about the powerful difference hyperbaric oxygen therapy can make in the lives of our veterans. Our legislation advances the study of this impactful treatment and will hopefully lead to more opportunities for veterans to receive it through the VA,” said Cramer in a news release.

Cramer is a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Health Care Improvement Act also:

– Increases the capacity of the VA’s mental health workforce by:

Giving the VA direct hiring authority for more mental health professionals.

Offering scholarships to mental health professionals working at Vet Centers.

Placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator at each VA medical center.

– Improves rural veterans’ access to mental health care services by:

Increasing the number of locations at which veterans can access VA telehealth services.

Offering grants to non-VA organizations that provide mental health services or alternative treatments to veterans.

– Establishes a grant program to enhance collaboration between the VA and community organizations across the country in order to more quickly identify veterans who are at risk of suicide and provide them with preventive services.

– Holds the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts.

The Senate VA Committee also advanced its bipartisan Nursing Home Care for Native American Veterans Act through committee and onto the Senate floor, according to Cramer and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The act supports the construction of veteran nursing homes on tribal lands by authorizing the VA secretary to make certain grants available for nursing home construction on tribal lands. Currently, there are no veteran nursing homes on tribal lands, which are excluded from a law allowing for 65 percent of construction costs of veteran nursing homes to be reimbursed. The bill eliminates that exclusion.

The bill is endorsed by the Navajo Nation, National Indian Health Board and National Congress of American Indians.

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