One year of mental health care for transitioning vets

Jonathan Kaupanger
January 09, 2018 - 11:16 am
Executive Order

(Photo by Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA)


The President just signed a new Executive Order, aimed directly at veterans who are transitioning from active duty to civilian life.

What does this mean? Now, vets can get mental health care for at least one year after they separate from the service, regardless of any service-related connection to the issue.

The “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service to Civilian Life” order directs the VA, Department of Defense and Homeland Security to come up with the plan. It’s estimated that about 60 percent of new veterans don’t qualify for VA healthcare because they lack a verified service connection.

“As service members transition to veteran status, they face higher risk of suicide and mental health difficulties,” said VA Secretary, Dr. David J. Shulkin. “During this critical phase, many transitioning service members may not qualify for enrollment in health care.  The focus of this Executive Order is to coordinate Federal assets to close that gap.”

The Government now will work to expand existing mental health programs and eliminate prior time limits for these new veterans. Specifically, the VA will expand its peer community outreach and group sessions with the VA Whole Health initiative.  Currently, only 18 VAMC’s offer this service.  DoD plans on extending the “Be There Peer Support Call and Outreach Center” services to give peer support for vets for the year after they separate.

“We look forward to continuing our partnership with the VA to ensure veterans who have served our country continue to receive the important mental health care and services they need and deserve,” said Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis.

Mattis wasn’t the only political figure who felt this new order was a step in the right direction.

U.S. Representative Mike Coffman, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Personnel, said “As a Marine Corps combat veteran, I deeply appreciate the fact that President Trump wants to focus on making the transition easier for our men and women in uniform during their transition to civilian life, especially for our combat veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war,”

And while this plan makes strides towards ensuring all service members have expanded access to mental health resources, no one is entirely sure about the details of the Executive Order.

The Ranking Member on the House committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Tim Walz, who is also the highest ranking enlisted service member ever to serve in Congress released a statement after the Executive Order was signed. “I have long been a proponent of increased coordination between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs as a means to improve the lives and experiences of servicemembers transitioning from active duty to civilian life.”

Walz went on to say, “However, I am seriously concerned by the White House’s failure to provide any specific details to Congress or engage with veterans organizations in the community until the day of the executive order. The lack of detail raises significant concerns with regard to targeted funding, outreach, and the education of servicemembers and veterans about the new policies.  The lack of transparency also raises skepticism of the White House’s claim that his executive order will not require additional funding.”

Veterans Affairs already has several modern tools in its arsenal to combat veteran suicide:

TeleMental health service is now provided through 10 regional hubs across the VA’s healthcare system.

The VA has 13 mobile apps that veterans and their families can download and use the tools provided to help manage emotional and behavioral concerns.

Readjustment counselors at the 300 community-based vet centers provide professional readjustment counseling to veterans and active duty service members.

When veterans can’t make it to the Vet Center, one of the VA’s 80 mobile vet centers heads out to reach as many rural-living veterans as possible.

The most wide-ranging study of veteran suicide in our nation’s history was released by the VA last year. The agency looked at over 55 million healthcare records from 1979 to 2014, with all 50 states and territories included for the first time.  Previous suicide reports from the VA have been based on data obtained from only 20 states and 3 million veteran records.

For a complete list of VA health care facilities, Vet Centers, local suicide prevention coordinator and other resources, you can start here: