President Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order that would extend mental health care to military service members transitioning out of the Armed Forces and back to civilian life.
Miami Valley veterans advocates say connecting more struggling veterans with the mental health services they need could help reduce the growing risk of suicide among such veterans in the region.
Officials at the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center say transitioning from the military to civilian life can be difficult even under the best of circumstances. After leaving the service, many veterans experience changes in their interpersonal relationships, financial stability, careers and health.
Dayton VA suicide prevention coordinator Karon Wolfe says adding mental health issues into the mix can be even more dangerous. Wolfe says many struggling veterans don’t ask for help.
“We have 20 veterans that lose the battle to suicide every day, and we have 14 of those veterans there in the community that haven’t really reached out to the VA or haven’t linked in to the system,” she said.
Wolfe says the number of veterans contacting her office is growing. In the last year, more than 600 were referred to the Dayton VA through the national crisis line. The Dayton VA serves 17 counties in Southwestern Ohio.
The Trump administration’s order aims to connect the roughly 60 percent of vets, who officials say don’t immediately qualify for service-connected health care, with mental health services.
In a statement from the United States Department of Defense, Secretary James Mattis called it a top priority for the administration. Mattis said the order allows the veterans, through the VA, to continue receiving “important mental health care and services they need and deserve.”
The president's order directs the U.S. Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security agencies to develop, “a joint action plan” to "expand mental health programs and other resources to new veterans in the year following departure from uniformed service, including eliminating prior time limits.” The order also will:
- 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.
The order was signed under the lengthily title “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service to Civilian Life.”