Washington, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed S.785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.  Designed to better serve veterans and connect our veterans with mental health services, this legislation included provisions championed by Congressman Andy Barr (KY-06) to strengthen access for veterans to equine assisted therapy (EAT) treatments for mental health and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).  EAT is an innovative therapy that allows veterans with mental, social, or physical impairments to work with horses on their road to recovery.  

Approximately 20 servicemembers and veterans die by suicide every day, of those only six have sought care from VA in the two years preceding their death.  Sadly, these rates have remained stable—between 18 to 22 veteran suicide deaths per day since the late 1990’s—despite significant increases in resources targeted towards mental health care within the VA.  This omnibus veterans’ mental health legislation takes a needed, innovative step to allocate multi-year funding to state and local organizations for the purpose of facilitating veteran suicide prevention programs.

“I commend the House and Senate for coming together to support this comprehensive bill that expands mental health services for our veterans,” said Congressman Barr, who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC).  “Because of this package, veterans will have unprecedented access to EAT treatments to help overcome the invisible wounds of war that currently claim the lives of veterans every day.  Most veterans who commit suicide each day have not sought care from the VA in the previous two years.  We must support organizations that interact with this population of veterans and provide them with the necessary resources to reduce and eliminate veteran suicide.”

“Eagala is grateful to Congressman Barr’s advocacy for mental health services incorporating horses to be included as a covered suicide prevention service in S. 785,” said Lynn Thomas, who serves as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (Eagala), a national equine assisted therapy organization.  “It is critical that alternate therapies, like psychotherapy with horses, be supported in this bill.  Thousands of veterans across the country already use equine-assisted services in their road to recovery.  This successful approach in addressing post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health needs allows the veteran to recover in an interactive environment that suits their needs.  Eagala commends Congressman Barr for ensuring that psychotherapy incorporating horses is a covered service to treat mental health issues and prevent combat veteran suicide in this landmark legislation.”

Congressman Barr’s bipartisan bill, the Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act of 2020, also passed the House of Representatives this week, and heads to the U.S. Senate for consideration.   Barr also serves on the HVAC Health and Economic Opportunity Subcommittees.