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VA Lawmakers Working on Deal to Pass Major Veteran Suicide Prevention Bill

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Suicide prevention has been among the topics on the top of lawmaker’s minds when it comes to providing adequate care for veterans. It looks as though top Veterans Affairs lawmakers in Congress are now close to an agreement that would pave the way for major veteran’s suicide prevention legislation to pass this year. 

According to Sen. Jerry Moran, negotiations with his House counterpart, Mark Takano have been ongoing regarding the deal. “We have reached an understanding that the House will take up (the bill) on Sept. 21st , or 22nd,” said Moran. He also added that no amendments would be made to the bill. Reports from Takano differ slightly, however. On Thursday, Takano said a deal is close, but has not yet been finalized. Moreover, he claims to have not spoken directly to Moran yet. 

“This committee has been trying to work with the Senate for six months on comprehensive veteran suicide prevention legislation, and after promising staff-level conversations, we’re pleased to hear they’re committed to moving forward with meaningful improvements to help reduce veteran suicide and help prevent veterans from falling into crisis,” he said. “I look forward to speaking with Chairman Moran directly, since we haven’t had that opportunity yet, and discuss further his commitment to pass the House’s bipartisan additions to S.785. As we will hear today, there are much needed improvements to strengthen S.785 and fully meet the needs of our veterans.” 

Takano went on to indicate that “a very good pathway” exists for the bill but final touches must be made. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie has put pressure on the House to expedite the process as the clock is ticking with few legislative days left on the calendar. 

Legislation on suicide prevention has incredible importance for thousands of veterans. VA reports show that approximately 20 veteran die by suicide each day, a staggering figure. Additionally, in recent years this number has worsened despite increased spending and programs aimed at helping those affected, though it should be noted that this data typically lags behind by two years. 

The legislation, dubbed the Hannon bill, seeks to improve mental health care for Veterans. The bill is named after John Scott Hannon, a former leader of SEAL Team Two, who died of suicide after 23 years of service.

The bill contains several measures that all work to improve mental health care and would provide approximately $174 million over five years to VA health care services. This money would be directed towards a number of causes that include: potentially expanding care to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges, transition assistance, grants for local groups that help veterans, studying alternative care, hiring more suicide prevention coordinators, and studying how effective efforts to combat suicide have been thus far. 

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