Last week, President Trump made an impassioned plea for America’s veterans. He issued a call to action, seeking greater focus on the invisible injuries that many veterans – of all wars – have brought home and carry with them, having put their lives at risk for all of us.
His plea was backed by action, a “National Call to Action to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Veteran Suicide,” and an “Executive Order establishing a national “Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide.”
America loses more than 20 veterans a day to suicide, the product of invisible and untreated injuries suffered in wars both recent and long since ended. That number is 50 percent higher than for non-veteran adults. The number jumped more than 25 percent between 2005 and 2016.
The President’s aim is to swing the doors of treatment wide, shifting focus and resources to those most in need, changing attitudes toward those who carry these scars and deserve the best from the Nation they defended.
“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,” the President said – in the presence of those all too familiar with tragedy, close at home and overseas.
Among the outcomes of this Executive Order, a task force will immediately be convened with Secretaries of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security. The goal will be a “roadmap” to end this national – and personal – tragedy for veterans.
Elicited are both public and private “stakeholders,” who will be commissioned, empowered, and required to “better understand” … underlying factors’ leading to veteran suicides, with a focus on “earlier identification and intervention” to prevent this tragedy – ultimately bringing the number lost to zero.
Clearly, the introduction of new technologies, approaches, and parties nationally is being invited. The proposal aims to equip “State and local governments with … resources and tools they need to empower veteran communities and provide needed services,” going beyond present provisions.
This order builds on prior efforts in recent months, including an Executive Order directing improved “access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for veterans,” another $73.1 billion in funding for the VA last year (a record), and “$8.6 billion for mental health services and $206 million for suicide prevention” specifically.
All this is encouraging, as are initiatives such as widening access to private sector options when Veterans’ hospitals are out of reach, overburdened, or cannot provide specific services needed by veterans with these life-and-death vulnerabilities, conditions and invisible injuries.
New options also include the “No Hero Left Untreated Act,” signed into law by President Trump last December, as included in a larger piece of legislation. That act, which began as H.R. 1162, requires the VA “to carry out a one year pilot program to treat a limited number of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, or opiate addiction or who have experienced military sexual trauma by using magnetic EEG/EKG-guided resonance therapy,” and to then report back to Congress with a report on findings.
Other pieces of legislation – and directive report language – aim to refocus national attention on those who often need it most and get it least, too often last or not at all. The need for empathy, innovation and access, reliable treatments and sustained commitments to these veterans is enormous, immediate and compelling.
All in all, the new emphasis is consistent with the President’s longstanding effort to help veterans, and in a time of great national distraction, it is heartening to see that President Trump continues his intent focus on problem solving, especially for our deserving veterans.