Representative Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39) praised the unanimous, bipartisan passage of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which includes his bipartisan bill—Setting Treatment Options and Practices for Veteran Suicide and Substance Abuse Act (STOP Veteran Suicide and Substance Abuse Act). Rep. Cisneros’ bill, which was introduced with Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL-18), requires the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, in consultation with the Department of Defense, to: (1) complete its clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of PTSD, TBI, and MST when those diagnoses are comorbid with substance misuse disorder or chronic pain; and (2) update the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Assessment and Management of Patients at Risk for Suicide with age and gender specific risk factors and treatment options.
“As September marks National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I’m grateful the House and Senate worked across the aisle to improve mental health services for our veterans. I’m proud this landmark legislative package includes my bipartisan bill to prevent veteran suicide and substance misuse problems,” said Rep. Cisneros. “As a Navy Veteran, I’ll continue to advocate for the needs of our nation’s heroes. We owe it to our veterans to get them the healthcare and resources they need and deserve.”
“Today, the House passed key legislation to reduce veteran suicide, and I want to thank my friend, Rep. Cisneros, for his work on this package. Thanks to his advocacy we were able to include two provisions— one directing VA to update its clinical practice guidelines for treating veterans at risk of suicide, and the other mandating that VA develop clinical practice guidelines to standardize treatment for veterans with co-occurring substance use disorders, chronic pain, PTSD, or traumatic brain injuries,” said HVAC Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41).
The larger legislative package, Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, is groundbreaking legislation to connect more veterans with critical mental health care. The bill will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in six major ways:
- Bolstering VA’s mental health workforce to serve more veterans by offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers, and placing at least one Suicide Prevention Coordinator in every VA hospital.
- Improving rural veterans’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of locations at which veterans can access VA telehealth services.
- Implementing a pilot program to provide veterans access to complementary and integrative health programs through animal therapy, agritherapy, sports and recreation therapy, art therapy and post-traumatic growth.
- Establishing a grant program that requires VA to better collaborate with community organizations across the country already serving veterans. This collaboration will result in earlier identification of veterans who are at risk of suicide and will provide the ability to intervene with preventative services.
- Studying the impact of living at high altitude on veterans’ suicide risk and diagnostic biomarker research to identify depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other conditions.
- Holding the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts by examining how the Department manages its suicide prevention resources.
Rep. Cisneros is a Navy Veteran and member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
This article was released by the Office of Congressman Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr.