President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday creating a Cabinet-level task force designed to end the suicide epidemic amongst military veterans.
“We are here today to confront a solemn crisis that requires urgent national action,” Trump said in a signing event ceremony alongside administration officials and representatives from various veterans’ groups at the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “In a few moments, I will sign an executive order addressing one of our nation’s most heartbreaking tragedies: veteran suicide.”
Trump added, “Veteran suicide is a tragedy of staggering proportions. Hard to believe an average of 20 veterans and service members take their lives every single day. Who would believe that’s possible? There are more than 6,000 veteran suicides per year. The suicide rate among veterans is 1.5 times greater than that for non-veteran adults, and the suicide rate for post-9/11 soldiers has increased significantly over the last ten-year period.”
The order, titled the “President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide,” or “PREVENTS, will require top officials from multiple government agencies to coordinate a strategy to tackle the issue of veterans suicide and release recommendations to the president within the next 365 days. The order encourages public-private partnerships to make mental healthcare more readily accessible, incentivizes mental health research, and revamps existing suicide prevention resources offered by the VA.
“Our mission is to mobilize every level of American society to save the lives of our great veterans and support our heroes in need,” Trump said. “Through today’s action, I am launching the PREVENTS Initiative — ‘The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide.’ The task force will create a comprehensive, national public health roadmap that brings together federal and local government, along with private sector partners, to improve the quality of life for our veterans and turn the tide on this terrible crisis.”
The executive order comes after a report by the Government Accountability Office last December that revealed the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs had only spent $57,000 of the $6.2 million available for paid media, which could have gone towards suicide prevention efforts.
Robert Wilkie, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, will spearhead the initiative.
Currently, about 20 veterans die by suicide each day, about 1.5 times higher than those who haven’t served in the military, according to the Department of the Veterans Affairs latest report on VA National Suicide Data. In an interview with ‘Fox and Friends’ on Tuesday, Wilkie said that 14 out of 20 veterans were not under the VA care.
“The sad thing is that 14 of those 20 are outside of our veteran system,” Wilke said. “We will bring the best medicine, the best social science in addition to going to the Congress and asking for grants and money to give to our states and localities so they can help us in this fight.”
The White House described the executive order as a “national call to action.” A senior administration official said on a call with press Tuesday morning said the new task force created by the executive order will create a grant system similar to the Housing and Urban Development VA Supportive Housing program, which provides funding for state and local programs that help veterans and their families experiencing homelessness find permanent housing.
Just a few moments ago, I signed an EO addressing one of our nation’s most heartbreaking tragedies: VETERANS SUICIDE. To every Veteran—I want you to know that you have an entire nation of more than 300 million people behind you. You will NEVER be forgotten.https://t.co/DKxiV5Ku3B— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2019
Trump pointed out the high veterans’ suicide rate can be solved only if the entire country works together to build communities supporting and protecting veterans from the moment they return from service to civilian life.
“This grave problem can only be solved if our entire country works together to build communities that truly serve, support, and protect our veterans from the first moment they return to civilian life,” Trump said. “Veterans are America’s greatest national treasure and a lot of people understand that; some people don’t. I will tell you, our single-greatest national treasure. They kept us safe and we’re going to keep them safe. They courageously fulfill their duties to our nation. Now we must fulfill our duties to them.”