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Malka Berro

Policy Associate

Washington Post Live Event Highlights Veterans’ Mental Health

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Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jon Tester (D-MT) spoke at a Washington Post Live event this week about veterans’ mental health and their new bill, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act (S. 785). On average, 20 veterans die by suicide every day, with only 6 of those having received treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This bill aims to improve access to high-quality VA mental health care.

This bill directs the VA to address the mental health workforce shortage, specifically calling for increased licensed professional mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. It would also create a scholarship program for mental health professionals who would then work in VA Centers. Senator Moran explained that these workforce aspects of the bill, along with other parts of the bill that aim to expand telehealth, would especially help rural states where access disparities are amplified. As Senator Tester noted, “We’ve got to do a better job in outreach. That’s really the bottom line.”

Senator Moran also highlighted how successful community mental health centers (CMHCs) have been in his home state, and how we should be utilizing those centers to address veterans’ needs. Senate bill 785 would require the VA to integrate community-based mental health care into the Veterans Health Administration, thus increasing the number of professionals and programs veterans could access.

The work to address veterans’ mental health doesn’t stop with this bill. Senator Moran noted his support for the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2019 (H.R. 4194/S. 2661), a recently introduced bill which would designate “9-8-8” as a national suicide and mental health hotline, with a direct line to the Veterans Crisis Line.

“It’s to make sure that we work together, Senator Tester and all of us, to make sure the promises that we made to those who served are kept, that they are cared for and respected and loved,” said Senator Moran. “And so, we have an opportunity… [This legislation] will be a priority of the Committee [on Veterans’ Affairs]. And we’ll work to see that legislation occurs.”

You can watch the full Washington Post Live event here and read a transcript of the Senators’ remarks here.