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Executive Order Calls to Aid Veteran Access to Mental Healthcare

Sara Heath | Patient EngagementHIT

The executive order calls on the DoD, VA, and DHS to create protocol that enable veteran access to mental healthcare within one year of exiting the services.

President Trump has signed an executive ordered aimed at expanding veteran access to mental healthcare during transitions from military service to civilian life.

The order, titled “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service to Civilian Life” requires the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security to create protocol that would ensure veterans receive mental healthcare for at least one year following leaving the uniformed services.

Currently, 60 percent of newly civilian veterans do not have access to mental healthcare, mostly because of insufficient verified service connection for mental healthcare. The DoD, VA, and DHS will be in charge of filling this care gap.

The agencies have 60 days to develop a Joint Action Plan to establish access to mental health and suicide prevention resources for veterans returning to civilian life. Within 180 days, the DoD, VA, and DHS must update the President of the Joint Action Plan’s progress.

This work is essential, considering the large role mental healthcare plays in reacclimating a serviceman or woman back into civilian life, according to VA Secretary David J. Shulkin, MD.

“As service members transition to Veteran status, they face higher risk of suicide and mental health difficulties,” Shulkin said in a statement. “During this critical phase, many transitioning service members may not qualify for enrollment in health care. The focus of this Executive Order is to coordinate Federal assets to close that gap.”

Veterans three to six months out of their service contracts are three times more likely to commit suicide than other groups, according to a press release from the White House. About 18.5 percent of veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the White House said.

The three agencies will need to eliminate certain veteran barriers to mental healthcare, including prior time limits. They will also work to establish the following:

  • Expanding peer community outreach and group sessions in the VA Whole Health initiative from 18 Whole Health Flagship facilities to all facilities. Whole Health includes wellness and establishing individual health goals.
  • Extending the Department of Defense’s “Be There Peer Support Call and Outreach Center” services to provide peer support for Veterans in the year following separation from the uniformed service.
  • Expanding the Department of Defense’s Military One Source (MOS), which offers resources to active duty members, to include services to separating service members to one year beyond service separation. 

This executive order allows the DoD, VA, and DHS to partner in ways that are beneficial to their constituents.

“The Department of Homeland Security is where many Veterans find a second opportunity to serve their country — nearly 28 percent of our workforce has served in the armed forces, in addition to the 49,000 active-duty members of the United States Coast Guard,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.  

“This critically important Executive Order will provide our service members with the support they need as they transition to civilian life,” Nielsen added. “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 EO.”

This move comes as a part of the President’s reported commitment to serving the armed forces, he said in the White House statement.

“We must ensure that our veterans are given the care and support they so richly deserve,” the President said. “That is our unwavering commitment to those who served under the flag of the United States.”

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