Congress Expands Veteran Access to Telehealth for Mental Health Care

– Veterans will soon have more opportunities to use telehealth to access mental health services, following Congressional passage of a bill targeting the high suicide rate among service members.

The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act (S 785) is headed to President Trump’s desk following passage by the House last month and the Senate’s approval in August. It’s designed to take on a mental health crisis that claims the lives of more than 20 veterans a day – two-thirds of which hadn’t accessed and treatment for depressions or stress.

Originally introduced in June of 2019, the bill authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs to award grants for the development of telemental health programs for veterans, and to assess and report on the barriers faced by veterans in trying to use telehealth.

It also requires the VA to conduct a survey on veterans’ attitudes toward accessing care via connected health channels, and it directs the department to launch an mHealth messaging platform for the Women Veterans Call Center.

The bill, which includes dozens of programs, actions and pilots aimed at improving access to care, is named in honor of Commander John Scott Hannon, a member of the Navy SEALs who served for 23 years and died by suicide in 2018.

In addition, telehealth measures are included in a pile of veteran-related bills passed by the House and now on their way to the Senate. They include: