Transitioning service members and veterans can now receive up to a year of mental health care from the Veterans Affairs Department after discharge from the service, according to an executive order President Donald J. Trump signed Jan. 9.
The order, “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service to Civilian Life,” directs the Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security departments to develop a joint action plan to ensure the 60 percent of new veterans who now do not qualify for enrollment in health care — primarily because of a lack of verified service connection related to the medical issue at hand — will receive treatment and access to services for mental health care for one year following their separation from service.
“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,” said Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
“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. “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.”
Shulkin noted that as service members transition to veteran status, they face higher risk of suicide and mental health difficulties. “During this critical phase, many transitioning service members may not qualify for enrollment in health care,” he said. “The focus of this executive order is to coordinate federal assets to close that gap.”
The three departments will work to expand mental health programs and other resources to new veterans in the year following departure from uniformed service, including eliminating prior time limits and to:
— Expand 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.
— Extend DOD’s “Be There Peer Support Call and Outreach Center” services to provide peer support for veterans in the year following separation from uniformed service.
— Expand the DOD’s Military OneSource, which offers resources to active duty members, to include services to separating service members to one year beyond service separation.
Serving their country
“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 Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen.
“This critically important executive order will provide our service members with the support they need as they transition to civilian life,” she 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 [executive order].”
In signing this executive order, Shulkin said, the president has provided “clear guidance to further ensure our veterans and their families know that we are focusing on ways to improve their ability to move forward and achieve their goals in life after service.”