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Hirono champions bill to fight veteran suicide

U.S. Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awarded $1.5 million in federal funding to Hawai‘i to support veterans’ suicide-prevention efforts.

The funding is made possible through the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019, a bill Hirono cosponsored, and will go to multiple organizations in Hawai‘i, including Blue Star Families, Catholic Charities Hawai‘i and Child & Family Service.

“Our servicemembers risk their lives for our nation,” said Hirono. “But far too many are denied the support they need after they transition out of our military, resulting in shockingly high rates of veteran suicide.

“As we work to end the crisis of veteran suicide, this funding will help organizations on the ground in Hawai‘i continue and expand their work to provide our veterans with critical mental-health care and other important resources. I’ll continue working to advance suicide-prevention efforts and help ensure all of our veterans in Hawai‘i and across the country have access to the comprehensive physical and mental-health care they deserve.”

As of 2020, there were over 112,000 veterans in Hawai‘i, comprising over 10 percent of Hawai‘i’s adult population. According to a recent report, published this month by the VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander veterans have the second highest suicide rate of suicide among the demographic groups that were surveyed.

The Hannon Act broadens mental-health-care and suicide-prevention programs for veterans. It builds upon the VA’s existing mental-health services and aims to improve access options for all veterans by combining community and clinically-based interventions to prevent veteran suicides.

The bill also enhances the VA’s mental-health workforce and increases rural veterans’ access to care, while also expanding access to alternative and local treatment options like animal therapy, outdoor sports and activities, yoga and acupuncture.

The act is named for Cmdr. John Scott Hannon, a member of the Navy SEALs who served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years before dying by suicide on Feb. 25, 2018.

Hirono has consistently advocated to provide resources and combat the veterans-suicide crisis, according to a press release.

In addition to being an original co-sponsor of the Hannon Act, in February she sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Defense and U.S. VA Secretary to voice concerns about the failures within the U.S. Department of Defense to screen for and prevent suicide amongst transitioning servicemembers.

In 2019, Hirono also called upon the DOD to address the increasing suicide rate among members of the National Guard. That same year, she also introduced the Reach Every Veteran in Crisis Act, legislation that would require the VA to improve oversight and evaluation of its suicide-prevention campaigns.