WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded the signing of his legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health services and reduce the alarming rate of veteran suicide. The bipartisan Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act includes a number of provisions authored by Sen. Warner to empower the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide resources to and share information with veteran-serving non-profits, as well as to require it to develop a measurement tool to assess the effectiveness of mental health programs. The legislation passed through the Senate in August and was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives late last month.
“This bill – now a law – is for every veteran throughout our nation’s history who has struggled to cope with the invisible wounds of war. The signing of this legislation today reaffirms our nation’s commitment to veterans and sends the message that every person who serves our country is deserving of the basic tools and resources needed to heal those wounds,” said Sen. Warner. “I was proud to help write this legislation and see its passage through the Senate, and today I’m proud to know that, thanks to these efforts, we’ll be providing, for the first time, this kind of direct support to veteran-serving non-profits and community networks in order to reach more veterans.”
Provisions from Sen. Warner’s IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act will create a VA grant program that leverages and supports veteran-serving non-profits and other community networks in order to reduce and prevent veteran suicides. Additionally, the bipartisan bill will enhance coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services, and better measure the effectiveness of those programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides and best concentrate the program’s resources on successful organizations and services.
The VA estimates that around 20 veterans die by suicide each day. Unfortunately that number has remained unchanged despite Congress more than tripling the VA’s funding for suicide prevention efforts over the last ten years to nearly $222 million in FY20. Only six of the 20 veterans who die by suicide each day receive health care services from the VA before their death.
Sen. Warner’s IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act was introduced in June 2019. Days later, at a committee hearing, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie called the bill “key” to unlocking the veteran suicide crisis. In January 2020, provisions of the Warner-Boozman legislation were included in the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and was then passed unanimously by both the full Senate and House.
Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of improving care for Virginia’s veterans. In January, he sent a letter to the four VA medical facilities providing care for Virginia’s veterans requesting an update on their suicide prevention efforts. He’s also met with senior leadership at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center and Hampton VA Medical Center (VAMC) to discuss wait time reduction at their facilities and suicide prevention efforts.