President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to come up with a plan to offer more extensive mental healthcare options to recent veterans, according to the Washington Post.
According to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who briefed the press on the plans, a primary goal is to drive down suicides among veterans — especially recent veterans, who have been found to commit suicide at a rate of double the general population within the first year after being released to the general population.
The three departments will have 60 days to come up with a joint plan, which is scheduled to take effect March 9.
One idea under consideration is expanding a program called Military OneSource, according to the Post, to cover the first year after someone leaves the armed services. Right now, Military OneSource is only available for the first 180 days after leaving the military. They offer face-to-face counseling services and a 24-hour helpline.
Veterans, especially male veterans between 18 and 29 and female veterans between 40 and 59, are generally prone to committing suicide, the Veteran’s Administration has found. Around 20 veterans commit suicide every day, a galling statistic that’s been a sad norm since at least 2013. Even before returning to the United States, suicide threatens the lives of veterans; in 2016, the Pentagon found that suicide — not enemy combatants or other accidents — was the biggest killer of Armed Services members stationed in the Middle East.
As the United States enters a second decade of occupation in parts of the Middle East and teases new deployments in African nations to fight ISIS, the population of veterans — especially recent veterans — only stands to increase.
Right now, according to Shulkin, some 265,000 veterans return to civilian life every year; he expected the cost of expanding services like Military OneSource to be a “couple hundred million dollars per year” that will come from existing budgets in the Veteran’s Administration and the Defense Department.