Aug. 6 (UPI) -- A bill to expand mental health care for transitioning service members, as well as create a grant program for local veterans' organizations, was passed by the U.S. Senate this week.
The bill, which now needs to go before the House of Representatives before it can be signed into law, appropriates $174 million to the VA secretary for 2021 through 2025.
"This bill will make necessary investments in suicide prevention," said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, who worked on the bill with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. "It will improve and support innovative research. It will make improvements and increase the availability of mental health care. VA will be required to better collaborate with community organizations across the country serving veterans."
The legislation mandates that the department provide health care to all veterans for one year after they transition from active duty, as well as increasing mental health staffing, access to alternative therapies and suicide prevention research at the VA.
It also creates a grant program providing up to $750,000 to state and local organizations that offer suicide prevention services to veterans and their families.
The bill is titled the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. Hannon was a Montana veteran and advocate with Montana's chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness who died by suicide in 2018 at age 46.
Hannon, who served as a leader of SEAL Team Two, a member of SEAL Team Six and a Special Operations and policy staff officer at U.S. Special Operations Command, had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, severe depression and bipolar disorder.
About 17 veterans die by suicide every day, according to the most recent figures from the VA, and veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than those who have never served in the military.
"People have been looking for solutions and looking for solutions, and the fact is there is no silver bullet," Tester said Wednesday. "But what we've done today is give the VA more tools in their toolbox to be able to address this problem."