U.S. Army veteran Aaron Murphy places American flags around Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor for upcoming Memorial Day ceremonies, May 24, 2018. Volunteers placed 491 flags around the memorial – one for every Clemson graduate who has given the ultimate sacrifice. (Photo by Ken Scar)
Thanks to new legislation signed into law Saturday, anyone distressed with thoughts of suicide will be able by next fall to dial 988 to reach a national crisis line similar to 911 for mental health emergencies.
President Donald Trump on Saturday signed two bills into law to help prevent veterans suicide — the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act and the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.
The latter establishes a new Department of Veterans Affairs grant program to promote collaboration with outside entities and enhance suicide prevention services for veterans and their families. It establishes new data requirements to better track potential causes of suicide and new hiring rules to bolster the VA’s mental health workforce.
The VA estimates that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day, and of those 20, 14 have received no treatment or care from the VA, according to a statement by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan. Moran and ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont., sponsored the Improvement Act, which they say will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in six major ways:
“People in distress and in need of timely care should face the fewest obstacles possible to get help,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said after the bill was signed. “The bill President Trump signed today will soon make it easier for those at risk to be quickly connected to a trained responder and will help save lives.”
The legislation is named for Navy SEAL Commander John Scott Hannon, who retired to Montana after 23 years of service and worked to help veterans find their own paths to recovery before he died by suicide Feb. 25, 2018.
“This is a very proud moment for my brother and our entire family,” said Kim Parrott, Hannon’s sister, on behalf of the Hannon family. “This law will provide veterans greater and earlier access to the mental health care they need by requiring the DOD and VA to work together to bridge the transition between military service and civilian life and conduct research in evidence-based treatments.”
Tester said the 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.”
Senators also agreed to try and fast-track a package of nine House bills also related to veterans suicide. That package — dubbed the COMPACT Act — features a measure by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., to make VA mental health care services available to all veterans, regardless of their discharge status, according to Military Times. It also seeks to bolster support networks for at-risk veterans and requires VA officials to reach out to veterans every few years to ensure they are aware of benefits and health care options.
“It’s been a remarkable journey to get to this point, and I look forward to seeing the critical efforts laid out in this legislation to help our nation’s heroes get the right care at the right time for their mental health conditions,” said Matt Kuntz, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Montana, in a statement.
Ethan E. Rocke is a contributor and former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine, a New York Times bestselling author, and award-winning photographer and filmmaker. He is a veteran of the US Army and Marine Corps. His work has been published in Maxim Magazine, American Legion Magazine, and many others. He is co-author of The Last Punisher: A SEAL Team THREE Sniper’s True Account of the Battle of Ramadi.
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