Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner introduced legislation this week aimed at improving veterans’ access to mental health care.

The two Democrats introduced the legislation Monday along with Sens. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, with the purpose of bolstering the Department of Veterans Affairs’ mental health workforce, increasing rural access to care and expanding access to alternative options such as animal therapy, outdoor sports and yoga.

The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is named after Cmdr. J.S. Hannon, a retired Navy SEAL from Montana who took his own life following a struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We need to focus on new measures and new strategies in promoting mental health among veterans,” Kaine said Tuesday after meeting with leaders at the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center and touring the facility.

The legislation focuses on a few different areas. It would give the VA direct hiring authority for more mental health professions and place at least one suicide prevention coordinator in every VA hospital. The bill also aims to improve rural veterans’ access to mental health by expanding VA telehealth services.

The bill supports studies about how to invest in alternative mental health treatments.

For example, the Salem VA Medical Center offers various options, including equine therapy, golfing and fishing outings, with the focus on finding what works best for each veteran, said Salem VA spokesman Brett Robbins.

To curb the number of suicides among veterans, this legislation would hold the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts by examining how it manages suicide prevention resources and how it provides care to veterans seeking treatment.

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