October 25, 2020

Shaheen, Hassan Urge VA to Follow Through on 2018 Promises to End Veteran Suicide Epidemic

Senators raise alarm over Administration’s inability to fully implement provisions under President Trump’s Executive Order to expand critical mental health resources to nation’s heroes

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) joined a group of Senators to call on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to follow through on authorities under President Donald Trump’s Executive Order (EO) 13822 to increase veterans’ access to mental health care. The Senators’ letter, which was led by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), follows the recent signing of the landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which both Shaheen and Hassan co-sponsored.

 

In their letter, the Senators also urged the administration to aggressively implement critical provisions and new authorities under the law to provide more veterans with the mental health resources they need and earned.

 

“More than 6,000 veterans die by suicide annually, and each loss of life is immeasurable,” the Senators wrote. “Congress has done its part by providing consistent and robust resources for VA’s mental health budget and developing and passing comprehensive veterans’ mental health care legislation, most recently the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. Hopefully the issuance of EO 13822 was more than a hollow press opportunity by the Administration, and we can expect it to do right by our nation’s military and veterans by fully implementing the EO and all laws passed by Congress focused on mental health and suicide prevention.”

 

In parallel with Congress’ effort to end the veteran suicide epidemic, President Donald Trump signed EO 13822 on January 9, 2018, promising to make significant changes to improve the transition experience and connect service members to mental health resources. However—almost three years after the EO was signed—VA failed to complete critical authorities under this order.

 

The Senators continued, “At the EO signing, Secretary Shulkin stated this expanded mental health care benefit would be available by March 9, 2018. However, almost three years later, the Department has not increased access to mental health care, leaving up to 60 percent of newly transitioned service members without access to life-saving care. Also troubling, the Joint Action Plan for implementing EO 13822 contains no references or commitments to providing transitioning service members with this one year of mental health care. When can veterans expect to receive access to the essential mental health care promised to them by the Trump Administration?”

  

Senators Shaheen and Hassan have prioritized policies to help prevent veteran suicide and to improve veterans’ access to mental health care in New Hampshire and across the country. Earlier this week, Shaheen and Hassan-cosponsored legislation – the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act – was signed into law. The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act is a comprehensive and aggressive approach to connect more veterans with mental health care. The bill will bolster the VA’s mental health workforce and increase rural or hard-to-reach veterans’ access to VA care, while making sure veterans have access to alternative and local treatment options.

 

A copy of the Senators’ letter can be found HERE.

 

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