President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday expanding mental health care services for veterans transitioning out of military service, who are at greater risk of suicide.
The order will automatically enroll veterans who leave military service on March 9 or later for a full range of mental health coverage as the administration grapples with about 20 veterans per day who take their own lives.
Mr. Trump said the plan will include “concrete actions we must take to ensure every single veteran who needs mental health and suicide prevention services will receive them immediately upon the separation from military service.”
“They get out of the military and have nobody to talk to, nobody to speak to,” the president said. “And that’s been a very sad situation, but we are taking care of them.”
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said the rate of suicide among veterans who left the military within a year is nearly twice as high as the rate for other veterans.
“We are focused on doing everything that we can to try to prevent these veterans’ suicides,” he said.
Currently, about 40 percent of the 265,000 service members who leave active duty each year are receiving the full range of available services, Mr. Shulkin said.
He explained that previously, veterans needed “to be in a combat zone or service-connected” to receive these services. “What this executive order is asking us to do is provide mental-health service coverages for a 12-month period for all service members who are transitioning of the service,” Mr. Shulkin said.
Expanding the treatment options will cost more than $200 million per year, and will come out of existing budgets at the VA and the Department of Defense, a senior administration official said.
Veterans who received an other-than-honorable discharge will continue to be eligible only for emergency services, officials said.
The president said VA-accountability legislation passed by Congress last year is “one of the things I’m most proud of.”
“Now, when somebody doesn’t do the job at the VA, we fire that person,” Mr. Trump said. “When somebody’s bad to our great veterans, even sadistically bad, we fire those people. Get them out.”
Will Fischer, an Iraq War veteran and Director of Government Relations for VoteVets, said Mr. Trump “should delete the entire second half of his executive order, which moves the VA closer to privatization.”
“Giving veterans a voucher and sending them to the for-profit sector turns the entire veterans care system into a slush fund for profiteers,” Mr. Fischer said. “If Donald Trump wants to help veterans in need, he should rescind this executive order, and issue a new one that directs the Department to institute a plan to hire more health care workers, and submit a budget that fully funds that need, to ensure that returning veterans have the support they deserve.”
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