President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that will direct mental health resources to new veterans in an attempt to reduce Veteran suicide.
The administration calls the directive - Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition from Uniformed Service to Civilian Life.
“We must ensure that our veterans are given the care and support they so richly deserve. That is our unwavering commitment to those who served under the flag of the United States.” President Trump said.
The order directs the Secretaries of Veterans Affairs, Defense, and Homeland Security to develop a plan for seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention for transitioning service members in the year following military service.
Approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day, and research shows that veterans recently separated from the military take their own life at a higher rate.
Howard and Jean Somers lost their son Daniel, California Army National Guardsman who served in Iraq, to suicide and have been working with the Department of Defense and Department of Veteran Affairs to develop ways to protect veteran lives ever since.
“Anything that we can do to help the people that are sacrificing so much for us is just so critically important," Howard Somers said.
Daniel suffered a traumatic brain injury and lived with PTSD. He struggled to get help from the VA before taking his own life in 2013.
Howard Somers says he knows the real value of Trump's new program.
“It's really important that the next generation of warfighters does not suffer what the prior generation warfighters have suffered,” Howard said.
The secretaries have within 60 days to develop and submit a Joint Action Plan and update the President on the implementation, and outline further reforms to increase veteran access to mental health services within 180 days.
The status report will include the progress of reforms implemented through the Joint Action Plan and any additional reforms that could help further address problems that obstruct veteran access to mental health treatment resources.
The new order will cost about $200 million per year to implement.
There are significant challenges to the order, though.
More than 250,000 members of the military separate annually, and mental health services are already strained because of a lack of resources.
Howard and Jean have been advocating for veterans on this issue since losing their son. Howard said mental health services can vary at local VA hospitals, but the problem is bigger than that -- it's a national issue.
“The issue is we need more mental health care specialists,” Howard said.
Howard said that more online tools would help immensely. For example, the expansion of the VA’s “Anywhere to Anywhere” healthcare which allows VA providers to use telehealth technology to remotely serve veterans, or VA Video Connect, a new Online Scheduling Tool that enables veterans to schedule appointments from their mobile devices or computers.
While making mental healthcare a top priority for transitioning veterans, Jean Somers hopes this doesn’t slow mental healthcare for current Veterans.
“I hope they don't get lost in this. That would be very tragic," she said.
The Somers like the idea of collaboration between the VA and the Department of Defense and other agencies, but they would like to see the resources available for several months at the end of a service member's military career, without any stigma.
After all, they say the military spent an awful lot of time to make their son Daniel a warrior, but "They did nothing to take him from that warrior status and train him how to be a civilian again," Jean said.