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Two New Laws Approved By Trump Designed to Help Veterans with Mental Health Issues and Prevent Suicide

Friday, October 30, 2020

Two major pieces of legislation were signed by President Donald Trump last Saturday. Both address the problem of suicide among veterans. However, certain provisions of the new laws had been stripped before they reached the president’s desk, leaving advocates unsatisfied.

The first law, dubbed the Cmdr. John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, will require that the VA hire additional suicide prevention coordinators and award grants to organizations that focus on mental health issues among veterans.

Frequently pressured for flexibility in awarding funds to such community organizations, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie praised the legislation. In a press release Sunday, Wilkie said that “about 60 percent of the Veterans who die by suicide aren’t getting care from VA, so it’s vital we do all we can to offer intervention and care to veterans where they live. This bill takes a strong and meaningful step in that direction.”

Though the Secretary claims that a strong and meaningful step has been taken, it has nevertheless fallen short of the demands and hopes of advocate groups. Before it’s signing, the bill lost a key feature: a provision requiring that medical providers who care for veterans be trained to relay instructions about safe storage and handling of firearms.

Approximately 20 veterans take their own lives each day. Firearms play a role in about 70% of these cases. Advocates seeking better education around safe storage and handling cite studies that show reduced rates of suicide when quick access to weapons is limited.

Lawmakers are still praising the legislation for its ability to ensure that no veteran goes unaccounted for. However, ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen Jon Tester, said that “This new law combines the best ideas from veterans, veterans service organizations, the VA, and mental health care advocates to deliver innovative solutions that’ll help heal invisible wounds of war through increased access to care, alternate therapies and local treatment options.”

Committee Chairman Sen. Jerry Moran also voiced his support for the support our veterans will receive through this legislation, especially during the current pandemic that has exacerbated the struggles of many veterans.

The bill bears the name of Cmdr. John Scott Hannon a former member of SEAL Team Six. Though he spent much of his time after service helping other veterans with service-related physical and mental trauma, he took his own life on Feb 25th, 2018, using a personal firearm.

The other bill signed by Trump on Saturday was the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, which makes 988 the telephone numbers for the suicide and mental health crisis hotline system. This change will be officially implemented by July 2022.

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