Veterans transitioning back to civilian life can look forward to expanded mental health services, more choices for accessing care under some circumstances and other expanded assistance and support transitioning to civilian life under the Presidential Executive Order on Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service to Civilian Life President Donald J. Trump signed this morning (January 9, 2018) to ensure veterans have the resources they need as they transition back to civilian life..
The Executive Order declares, “t is the policy of the United States to support the health and well-being of uniformed service members and veterans. After serving our Nation, veterans deserve long, fulfilling civilian lives. Accordingly, our Government must improve mental healthcare and access to suicide prevention resources available to veterans, particularly during the critical 1-year period following the transition from uniformed service to civilian life,
The Executive Order acknowledges the current system fails adequately to care for veterans transitioning to civilian life. It states, “Unfortunately, in some cases within the first year following transition, some veterans can have difficulties reintegrating into civilian life after their military experiences and some tragically take their own lives. Veterans, in their first year of separation from uniformed service, experience suicide rates approximately two times higher than the overall veteran suicide rate.” To help prevent these tragedies, the Executive Order states all veterans should have seamless access to high-quality mental healthcare and suicide prevention resources as they transition, with an emphasis on the 1-year period following separation.”
In announcing the Executive Order, President Trump said caring for veterans is a “top priority.”
“We want them to get the highest care and the care that they so richly deserve,” he said.
To implement the necessary improvements to improve veterans care, the Executive Order direct the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the Secretary of Homeland Security to collaborate to address the complex challenges faced by our transitioning uniformed service members and veterans to accomplish the following:
Within 60 days, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the Secretary of Homeland Security must submit to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, a Joint Action Plan that describes concrete actions to provide, to the extent consistent with law, seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for transitioning uniformed service members in the year following discharge, separation, or retirement.
Within 180 days, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, a status report on the implementation of the Joint Action Plan and how the proposed reforms have been effective in improving mental health treatment for all transitioning uniformed service members and veterans that addresses progress on certain specific reforms and any additional reforms that could help further address the problems that obstruct veterans’ access to resources and continuous mental healthcare treatment, including any suggestions for legislative and regulatory reforms; and
A timeline describing next steps and the results anticipated from continued and additional reforms.
The actual Executive Order tells little about how the Trump Administration intends to implement these directives. The White House press release about the Executive Order states President Trump believes that our veterans deserve the best healthcare in the world, and is working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand and modernize their care including through four already announced initiatives to expand healthcare access for our veterans through technological innovation:
An expansion of the VA’s “Anywhere to Anywhere” healthcare, which allows VA providers to use tele-health technology to remotely treat veterans regardless of geographic location.
A greater adoption of VA Video Connect, an application for mobile phones and computers, which directly connects veterans and healthcare providers from anywhere in the country.
At over 100 VA sites across the nation, a rollout of the new Online Scheduling Tool, which enables veterans to schedule appointments from their mobile devices or computers.
A launch of the VA’s “Access and Quality Tool,” which allows veterans to view online both wait times at VA locations and important quality-of-care data.
The press release also states President Trump has ensured continued access to care in the Veterans Choice Program by signing the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act, authorizing $2.1 billion in additional funds for the Veterans Choice Program (VCP).
The VCP gives eligible veterans their choice of private care if they live more than 40 miles from the closest eligible VA facility, experience wait times over 30 days from the clinically indicated date, or face an excessive burden in accessing VA care.
On addition, the press release states the Department of Veterans Affairs will adopt the same Electronic Health Record (EHR) as the Department of Defense (DOD) so all patient data will reside in one common system, enabling the immediate availability of service member’s medical records and seamless care between the departments.
Concerning veterans mental health, President Trump notes that Secretary Shulkin already expanded access to urgent mental healthcare to former service members with other-than-honorable (OTH) discharges.
As in the past, the effect of these promises remains to be seen. The announced changes only provide a portion of the reforms needed and past reform programs have promised much but have failed to resolve access issues and failed to address notorious neglect and abuse recurrently uncovered in many veterans hospitals and other care facilities across the nation. Veterans, their families and treating physicians and others concerned with veterans health issues should monitor proposed changes and provide input as needed to ensure these reforms are properly designed and implemented as well as recommend other improvements.
About The Author
Repeatedly recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. For her profession practice and pro bono work with PROJECT COPE and others she is recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on veterans and other health and workforce policy and law and regulation for more than 30 years.
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