Trump Expands Mental Health Benefits for Veterans

By Kelly Burch 01/11/18

Trump's executive order is expected to affect the approximately 60% of recently retired veterans who would not have immediately qualified for VA care.

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday expanding mental health benefits for veterans. The order will ensure that veterans transitioning from active duty to civilian life will have access to at least a year of mental health care. 

“We want [veterans] to get the highest care and the care that they so richly deserve, and I've been working very hard on that with [Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin] and with everybody. It's something that is a top priority,” the president said during a signing ceremony, according to the Department of Defense. “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 who have recently left the service are at high risk for suicide, and each day 20 veterans who have left the service within the past year commit suicide, according to The Washington Post

“That is just an unacceptable number, and we are focused on doing everything we can to prevent these veterans’ suicides,” said Shulkin, who has made reducing suicides among veterans his biggest priority.

The executive order will take effect on March 9 and is expected to affect the approximately 60% of recently retired veterans who would not have immediately qualified for VA care; under current law, veterans cannot access VA services until a medical condition has been identified and tied to their military service. The executive order will remove that barrier for the first year after a veteran has been discharged, and calls for “seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for transitioning service members.”

“During this critical phase, many transitioning service members may not qualify for enrollment in health care,” Shulkin said. “The focus of this executive order is to coordinate federal assets to close that gap.”

The Department of Defense praised the order. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with the VA to ensure veterans who have served our country continue to receive the important mental health care and services they need and deserve,” Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said

The Department of Homeland Security—where 28% of employees have previous military experience—was also happy to see the expansion of benefits. 

“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].”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.