Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins joined a bipartisan group of colleagues and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie in urging House leadership to pass the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, legislation that would expand mental health resources for veterans both inside and outside the VA. The Senate unanimously passed this legislation on August 5. The legislation has been endorsed by numerous veteran service organizations (VSOs) and mental health organizations, including the Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
“This legislation is named for Commander John Scott Hannon, a decorated Navy SEAL veteran from Montana who lost his life to the invisible wounds of war in 2018. Sadly he is not alone, as many as 20 veterans die by suicide each day, and recent research has shown that for every one death by suicide, over 115 people are directly affected and negatively impacted,” the Senators wrote. “Suicide is a national tragedy and these deaths are preventable if the right care, services and supports are available for our nation’s veterans at-risk of suicide.”
“This legislation makes investments in veteran-serving community organizations across the nation to reach vulnerable veterans not currently connected to VA care to provide wrap-around suicide prevention services with the VA,” the Senators continued. “Additionally, the bill establishes increased accountability over the Department’s mental health and suicide prevention programs, expands VA telehealth capabilities to better serve rural veterans, bolsters and expedites federal research capabilities, directs VA to embark on a precision medicine initiative that will improve how mental health conditions are diagnosed and treated, and makes necessary improvements to the VA mental health workforce.”
Senator Collins, who represents a state with the second-highest percentage of veterans in the nation, has been a longstanding champion of increasing mental health care access for veterans. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the VA, she has year after year pushed to increase funding for mental health services and suicide prevention outreach. She recently joined the Maine Delegation in celebrating the announcement of the approval of a new 24-bed residential Substance Use Disorder treatment center at Togus. In addition, Senator Collins, along with Secretary Wilkie, recently delivered remarks at the Dedication Ceremony for the Acadia National Cemetery in Jonesboro.
In August, she joined Senate colleagues in introducing the Veteran Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020 to improve benefits for veterans in the areas of education, pensions, burials, and survivor benefits. The legislation includes elements of the bipartisan Veteran Pension Protection Act, legislation Senator Collins co-authored that would require VA to systematically track victims, scammers, and trends to proactively protect veterans and survivors across the country from predatory pension poachers.
In addition to Senator Collins, the letter was signed by Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-MT), and Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Michael Rounds (R-SD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), John Cornyn (R-TX), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mark Warner (D-VA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Bob Casey (D-PA), Steve Daines (R-MT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John Boozman (R-AR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Chris Coons (D-DE), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Jack Reed (D-RI), John Hoeven (R-ND), Tim Kaine (D-VA), James Risch (R-ID), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Doug Jones (D-AL), Rob Portman (R-OH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Tina Smith (D-MN).
Click HERE to read the full letter.