On Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that has not gotten much press in the mainstream media, even though it is a relatively controversy-free piece of legislation. It is legislation designed to help members of the United States military when they leave the service and begin the arduous task of reintegrating into society. Strangely, one congressman has a problem with the executive order.
The order, which is titled “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service To Civilian Life,” will help veterans by automatically enrolling them in mental health care services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs after they leave the military. Hopefully, this will help them transition with greater ease into their civilian life, as well as limiting suicides, drug and alcohol addiction, and other bad outcomes that many in the military suffer when they transition to the civilian world.
Now that the executive order is signed, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security have until March 9, 2018 (2 months after the signing of the executive order) to develop a plan to offer these services to veterans. Following that date, these organizations, along with the Department of Veterans Affairs, will have 180 days to implement that plan.
In the next 60 days, the big question facing these executive agencies will be to figure out how to create a system that automatically enrolls veterans leaving the service into the VA’s mental health programs, which will hopefully help bypass the current (and complex) process. Officials within the Donald Trump administration, speaking anonymously, have said that many servicemembers have difficulty enrolling in the VA’s mental health care programs due to the complexity of the process.
Because of the complexity of the enrollment process, only around 40 percent of veterans ever enroll in mental health programs through the VA within a year of leaving the service. Experts suggest that it is the lack of access to effective care that causes the veteran communities to have such high suicide rates, as well as high rates for various addictions and other problems.
The Trump administration hopes to allow veterans an option to ‘opt out’ of the program if they desire it. On a Tuesday teleconference with reporters, President Trump said that ideally, this ‘opt-out’ option would not require that veterans undergo a mental health screening process, allowing veterans who don’t feel that they need assistance transitioning from the military world into the civilian world to opt out without hassle.
However, not everyone is happy about the attempt to improve the mental health of the United States’ veteran community. Tim Walz, a Democrat Representative from Minnesota and a ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs, worried that this might be a tool for pushing more care to the more efficient private providers, rather than the government providers who continuously underperform.
On the other hand, the American Psychological Association say they support the changes, so long as a priority is made to ensure that the care is within the VA system whenever possible.
President Trump’s executive order does not impact those who received other-than-honorable discharges, who will remain ineligible for many services that the VA offers. Some complain that these people, who leave the military under negative conditions, should be MORE able to receive benefits since they are at a higher risk for suicide.
However, due to past legislation concerning those not honorably discharged from the military, the administration’s lawyers said that changing policy to include those with OTH discharges would require an act of Congress.
It’s strange that Tim Walz would complain so much about something that will help so many veterans; after all, he was a National Guardsmen and a Command Sergeant Major during his 24 years in the service. Perhaps his opinion of the needs of servicemen coming back from war is related to his lack of deployments to combat zones; Representative Walz had only ONE deployment over 24 years. He deployed once to Italy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, then retired.
Many military lobbying groups, including the American Legion, applauded the decision. Anyone with friends or family in the military should applaud it as well, as it will make it that much easier to get loved ones into the VA’s mental health programs.
While some partisans may complain, President Donald Trump is continuing to take steps to improve the lives of servicemembers, even after they leave the service. For that, if for nothing else, he deserves applause.