In October, President Donald Trump signed into law a major piece of legislation aimed at preventing veteran suicide, including one major bill focused on improving veteran mental health care.
The omnibus bill is named for Cmdr. John Scott Hannon, a former leader of SEAL Team Two, member of SEAL Team Six and Special Operations and policy staff officer at U.S. Special Operations Command, who retired in 2012. Six years later, Hannon died of suicide after 23 years of service.
VA data shows roughly 17 veterans and three service members die by suicide on average each day.
Hannon received treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, severe depression and bipolar disorder at the VA in Montana. He was committed to helping others while seeking his own recovery. Volunteering with the National Alliance for Mental Illness he spoke candidly at events about his wartime injuries.
The bill aims to improve mental health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs through several efforts, including grants to groups looking to help veterans outside VA.
Those efforts include:
- Grants to community organizations working to help veterans in crisis;
- If veterans with other-than-honorable discharges are referred to VA by these organizations in the grant program, they may qualify for VA mental health services.
- Ordering VA to study complementary and alternative care such as animal therapy, yoga, meditation, acupuncture and tai chi through a pilot program;
- Studying expansion of care to all veterans with other-than-honorable discharges;
- Transition assistance;
- Hiring more suicide prevention coordinators for each VA medical center (at least one for each VA hospital);
- Increasing access to VA telehealth locations for veterans who live in more rural or remote areas;
- Studying how VA manages its suicide prevention resources.
Some of those measures were inspired by what Hannon himself said helped him.
The bill named for Hannon would provide about $174 million over five years for mental health care services, including the grant program for local organizations to provide help outside VA.
The president also signed into law a bill that designates 988 as the universal telephone number of the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system, making it easier for those in need of help to quickly dial the potentially lifesaving service.