Legislation improves VA mental health, suicide prevent services

WASHINGTON – Bipartisan legislation to strengthen the mental health services and suicide prevention efforts at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has passed the U.S. House and will go to the president for his signature, according to co-sponsor Sen. John Hoeven and Sen. Kevin Cramer, who authored a provision of the bill.

The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019 will improve outreach to veterans, including those in rural, hard-to-serve areas, and provide them the mental health care they need and have earned, while also improving access to alternative treatment options.

The Senate passed the bill in August.

“This legislation advances a comprehensive approach to address the tragedy of veteran suicide, and builds on our efforts to improve access to alternative treatments for post-traumatic stress, like hyperbaric oxygen therapy,” Hoeven said. “Having now passed both chambers of Congress, we look forward to this bill being signed into law. This is another important step to ensure our veterans receive the health care, benefits and recognition they deserve.”

Specifically, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019 includes the following provisions to:

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

– Increase 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 and placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator at each VA medical center.

– Improve rural veterans’ access to mental health care services by increasing the number of locations at which veterans can access VA telehealth services and offering grants to non-VA organizations that provide mental health services or alternative treatments to veterans.

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

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

“Our bill is a comprehensive approach to addressing veterans’ mental health issues,” Cramer said. “It includes my provisions authorizing the VA to further study hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which I hope will ultimately lead to more veterans being able to access this treatment.”


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