Trump Executive Order Aims To Expand Veteran Mental Health Care

Jan 10, 2018
Originally published on January 10, 2018 8:11 am
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President Trump has signed an executive order to help more military veterans get mental health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Suicide prevention is a top priority for the VA. An estimated 20 veterans take their own lives every single day. The rate is particularly high among younger vets, who don't always have access to VA health care when they leave the service. The executive order will enroll them for VA mental health care automatically. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: At a White House ceremony, the president said he was fulfilling a promise to reform the VA and make sure veterans get the help they need.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Every single veteran who needs mental health and suicide prevention services will receive them immediately upon their separation from military service. They get out of the military, and they had nobody to talk to, nobody to speak to. And it's been a very sad situation, but we're taking care of them.

LAWRENCE: At his side, VA Secretary David Shulkin explained the importance of support when troops are in transition from active duty to civilian life.

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DAVID SHULKIN: That 12-month period after you leave service is the highest risk for suicide - almost 1 1/2 to 2 times highest risk in that first 12 months when you leave the service.

LAWRENCE: Most veterans have no trouble returning to civilian life, but the VA says the minority that needs help often doesn't reach out to VA or other services. And veterans are not automatically enrolled. They have to qualify in one of several ways, like having an injury connected to their service - until now, says Shulkin.

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SHULKIN: Currently, up until your executive order, only 40 percent of those service members had coverage in the VA to get mental health. Now 100 percent will have that coverage.

LAWRENCE: President Trump also took the opportunity to tout his administration's achievements on VA reform, including a 24-hour hotline for veterans and changes to make it easier to fire corrupt or incompetent staff.

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TRUMP: We will not rest until all of America's great veterans receive the care they have earned through their incredible service and sacrifice to our country.

LAWRENCE: The order will go into effect on March 9 after the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and VA design a system to seamlessly transfer vets from the Pentagon's care to the VA - a challenge that neither agency has been able to overcome despite decades of plans and policy. While the executive order drew bipartisan praise, several Democrats raised concerns about a lack of details - specifically, how the VA will absorb the hundreds of thousands of service members who get discharged each year when the VA's mental health care system is already severely understaffed.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

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