In early 2020, Congress passed the Commander John Scott Hannon Veteran’s Mental Health Care Improvement Act. Hannon was a Navy Seal who served 23 years in the US Navy. He retired to Montana where he received treatment for the invisible wounds he received while serving our country, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, Commander Hannon died by suicide in 2018.
Approximately 20 veterans die by suicide every day in the US. Of those, 14 have received no treatment from the VA. Veterans are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than civilians. Nearly one in three US service members who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan report developing a mental health condition or experiencing a traumatic brain injury during their deployment. These conditions make it difficult for veterans to find jobs and transition back into civilian life. But there are also a range of other, less-publicized mental health issues that are equally harmful, including anxiety, suicidal thoughts, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Unfortunately, less than a quarter of those who need treatment receive sufficient care.
The causes are many, but veterans are less likely to receive mental health treatment due to a paucity of options that allow them to do so without their chain of command knowing, the limited confidentiality of treatment, and stigma. These issues are being addressed, and the implementation of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veteran’s Mental Health Care Improvement Act will increase the number of veterans receiving treatment as well as the type of treatment that will be available. The bill allows the VA more authority to hire mental health practitioners and to partner with local providers and specialists, to study and invest in innovative and alternative treatment options by expanding veterans’ access to animal, outdoor or agri-therapy, yoga, meditation and acupuncture, and to specifically address the mental health needs of female veterans. The bill also seeks to increase access to mental health care to rural veterans.
This landmark legislation is an acknowledgment by the federal government of the oft-maligned mental health community and their critical role in helping veteran’s mental health challenges and reaches out to the local service providers to assist in providing the necessary therapeutic interventions our veterans desperately require.
A link to the bill can be found here: https://www.congress.gov/116/plaws/publ171/PLAW-116publ171.pdf