WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) today spoke on the floor of the United States Senate to highlight the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, a bill that provides broad reforms to improve veterans’ access to mental health services.
The Senate passed the bill on Aug. 5. It included three provisions authored by Cassidy, who serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. In his speech, Cassidy called on the House to pass the bill so it can be signed by President Trump.
“We owe the men and women who fought for this country a tremendous debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made to protect our freedom. Many veterans carry scars from injuries sustained during their service, but there are some scars we can’t see,” said Dr. Cassidy. “We must do a better job meeting the mental health needs of our veterans. Thankfully, this chamber took a big step forward last week when we passed the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.”
Highlights of the bill include:
- • Increases the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) ability to hire more mental health professionals, providing for at least one suicide prevention coordinator in every VA hospital.
- • Improves rural veterans’ access by increasing the number of locations veterans can use VA telehealth services, including non-VA mental health organizations.
- • Automatically grants a full year of VA health care service for veterans leaving the military, and improves services to transition veterans to education or career.
- • Studies and invests in innovative and alternative treatment options.
- • Holds the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts.
Three Cassidy provisions were included in the bill:
- • Promoting Coordination for Veteran Suicide Prevent Act, which conducts a thorough review of veterans who die by suicide within the first year of separation from the military.
- • VA Research Approval Efficiency Act, which gives the VA commercial options for approving clinical trials to improve care.
- • Improving Mental Health Care for Veterans Act, which requires the VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish joint clinical practice guidelines for treatment of serious mental illness.
Watch Cassidy’s speech on YouTube here.
Download Cassidy’s speech here.
Cassidy’s full remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below.
I rise today to highlight important legislation, which included several provisions I authored, that quietly passed this chamber last week that provides mental health support to America’s veterans.
We owe the men and women who fought for this country a tremendous debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made to protect our freedom. It is a dangerous profession, and our service members answer the call anyway. Many carry scars from injuries sustained during that service.
But there are some scars we can’t see. While service can take a physical toll, it can take a mental toll as well. Too many veterans struggle with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. About 17 veterans per day take their own lives. For comparison, 22 service members were killed in combat in Afghanistan throughout 2019. We’re losing thousands more veterans at home than we lose in fighting. Think about that.
We must do a better job meeting the mental health needs of our veterans. Thankfully, this chamber took a big step forward last week when we passed the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.
The bill improves outreach to veterans and offers new mental health care options in five major ways:
The bill bolsters the VA’s mental health workforce to serve more veterans. It gives the VA direct hiring authority for mental health professionals. The VA can offer scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers, and it provides for at least one suicide prevention coordinator in every VA hospital.
It improves rural veterans’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of locations where veterans can access VA telehealth services. It also offers grants to non-VA organizations that provide mental health services or alternative treatment to veterans.
This bill strengthens support and assistance for service members transitioning out of the military by automatically giving every service member a full year of VA health care when the leave the military. It improves services that connect transitioning veterans with career and education opportunities.
The Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act studies and invests in innovative and alternative treatment options. It does this by expanding veterans’ access to animal, outdoor or agri-therapy, yoga, meditation and acupuncture. It invests in research on the impact of living at high altitude on veterans’ suicide risk and on identifying and treating mental illness.
And it holds the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts. It does this by examining how the VA manages suicide prevention resources, and how the VA provides care and information sharing for veterans seeking mental health care from both VA and community providers.
Mr. President, this bill takes a strong, science-based approach to meeting veteran needs that haven’t always been given priority. It is encouraging to me that this is a bipartisan bill. At a time when we don’t agree on very much, we were able to deliver for our heroes.
I’m proud to have worked with bipartisan colleagues to write bills that were included in this package.
Senator Tester and I partnered on the Promoting Coordination for Veteran Suicide Prevention Act. This bill ensures that a thorough review of veterans who die by suicide within one year of separation from the Armed Forces is conducted jointly by VA and DoD. This information is essential to understanding social, economic, health care and other factors that may indicate a higher likelihood of suicide and realizing new ways to identify high-risk veterans. Plus, the partnership between mental health and suicide prevention experts in both VA and DoD will contribute to improved information sharing and help further close the gap in ensuring high-quality-seamless care between these two departments.
Senator Tester and I also worked together on the VA Research Approval Efficiency Act. This provision authorizes the VA to leverage accredited commercial institutional review boards for use in connection with VA sponsored clinical research. Giving VA commercial options for approving clinical trials will add much needed efficiencies and begin to reduce the disparity with academic and other institutions that today lead in clinical trial administration. This reform enables the VA to increase the caliber of care it delivers to veterans in a variety of clinical areas.
Senator Sinema and I introduced the Improving Mental Health Care for Veterans Act. This provision requires VA and DoD to establish a joint clinical practice guideline for treatment of serious mental illness. This common-sense approach builds on an already robust library of clinical practice guidelines that serve to standardize and reinforce treatment procedures in other areas. It will show the same benefits in elevating the standard of care for serious mental illness.
The passage of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is the culmination of a lot of hard work from senators on both sides of the aisle. It now goes to the House for consideration. I urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation so that President Trump can sign it into law. This bill will have a direct, positive impact in the care the VA delivers to American veterans. They answered the call to serve our nation, now Congress must answer the call to better serve them.