President Donald Trump signed a new executive order on Tuesday, mandating that the Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security departments work to develop a joint action plan to ensure all veterans separating from service have access to mental health services for a year after their separation from active duty, regardless of their service connected disability rating.

According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, roughly 60 percent of newly separated veterans do not qualify for enrollment in VA mental health care upon release from active duty, primarily because of a lack of verified service connection for issues that present themselves. That first year, however, is a particularly high risk period of time, as veterans 3 to 12 months out of active service are a whopping three times more likely to commit suicide than they were while still on active duty.

Trump’s new executive order, however, will require that the VA provide treatment for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and PTSD to veterans within the first year after separation regardless of verified service connected disabilities.

We want them to get the highest care and the care that they so richly deserve, and I’ve been working very hard on that with [VA Secretary David J. Shulkin] and with everybody. It’s something that is a top priority,” the president said upon signing the order. “We will not rest until all of America’s great veterans receive the care they’ve earned through their incredible service and sacrifice to our country.”

Veterans have faced what some have characterized as a suicide “epidemic” in recent years. Although the oft-touted “22 a day” figure isn’t actually accurate, recent statistics indicate that between 20 and 21 veterans end their own lives in the United States each day, not including those who make failed attempts.

This critically important executive order will provide our service members with the support they need as they transition to civilian life,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen. “These dedicated men and women have put their lives on the line to protect our nation and our American way of life, and we owe them a debt we can never repay. We look forward to working with the VA and DoD to implement the president’s [executive order].”

The order directs that the three departments submit a joint action plan within 60 days, and requires that its primary focus be on providing “seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for transitioning uniformed service members in the year.” Within 180 days of yesterday’s signing, the heads of each department will be responsible for providing President Trump with an update regarding the plan’s implementation.

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That update is also expected to include other recommendations to further streamline the process and improve care options for veterans struggling with mental health issues upon their separation from service.

 

Featured image courtesy of AP