By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump has signed an executive order directing the DoD, VA and Homeland Security departments develop a plan to ensure that all new veterans receive mental healthcare for at least one year following their separation from service.
The plan that the three departments are tasked with developing must ensure that the 60% of new veterans who currently do not qualify for enrollment in healthcare, primarily due to lack of verified service connection related to the medical issue, will be able to access services for mental health care for one year following their separation from service.
Per the order, agencies have until March 9 to develop and submit the joint plan on how they will accomplish the executive order. Within 180 days they must update the Trump administration on the implementation of that plan and outline “further reforms to increase veterans’ access to mental health services.”
“The joint action plan will describe concrete actions we must take to ensure every single veteran who needs mental health and suicide prevention services will receive them immediately upon their separation from military service,” Trump said in his announcement in January.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, MD, has called suicide prevention his top clinical priority. VA estimates that 20 veterans a day take their lives.
At a Senate hearing last fall on suicide prevention, University of Utah National Center for Veterans Studies Executive Director Craig Bryan pointed out that VA data shows that, from 2001 to 2014, the suicide rate among veterans who do not use VA services increased by 39% from 2001 to 2014, whereas the suicide rate among VA users increased by only 9%.
A study from the Naval Postgraduate School cited in a White House fact sheet found that veterans three to 12 months out of military service are three times more likely to commit suicide than their active duty compatriots, while those up to three months out of service were 2.5 times as likely.
At the White House signing of the new executive order on Jan. 9, Shulkin said that, while the 12-month period following service is the time when veterans are at highest risk for suicide, currently only 40% of those servicemembers have coverage in the VA to get treatment.
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