January 22, 2018

The Executive Order and Veteran Suicide

President Trump signs executive order to improve mental health services for veteransOn January 9, President Trump signed an executive order expanding access to mental health care for Veterans as they transition out of military service. The details of this move are not finalized, but it will include allowing access to Military OneSource for 12 months.

For those who think that transitioning Veterans are not eligible for mental health care currently – let me assure you that is not the case. However it can be confusing. Once a Veteran is discharged from the service they can apply for disability benefits at the VA, but most will wait an extended period of time before their applications are approved. They can use the VA system for care, but without a service connected disability rating their portion of the cost for their care and their priority for appointment will not be established. They are also eligible for care through Tricare and Military OneSource for six months. Tricare is the military healthcare system and does include mental health care. Military OneSource uses civilian mental health providers to provide counseling around issues related to transition and includes a crisis line. But this is for non-medical counseling. The issues must be resolved in 12 session “per issue” (such as stress, communication issues, marital problems); once a clinician actually makes a diagnosis, the Veteran is no longer eligible for care through this program.

The time of transition is one of great stress, and those with underlying mental health issues can quickly be overwhelmed.

We hope that there are plans to expand the scope of Military OneSource to assist with more serious issues.

For years here at SPW, we have focused on trying to help Veterans get the access to the best possible care and to understand their options. Since many may be eligible for care under the various programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare and VA Health Care, it can be confusing to know where a Veteran should go to access care. We applaud the efforts of this executive order to give transitioning Veterans a place where they are ALL eligible for care as they transition out of service.

That time of transition is so difficult as Veterans are reintegrating to civilian life and are also going through an employment transition as they try to find civilian jobs. This is a time of great stress, and without access to qualified mental health care to help teach coping strategies, those with underlying mental health issues can quickly be overwhelmed.

This executive order is a good first step. But with more than 20 Veterans dying by suicide every day, we must do something different in our approach to care. And we can’t forget about the older Veterans who also have a need for expanded care. We hope that as the details of this new program are finalized, there will be discussion about the needs of other Veterans to have access to VA care while their applications are pending.

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