The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) released a study in 2013 tracking suicide statistics among veterans between 1999 and 2010. The results were shocking, revealing that roughly 22 veterans were dying by suicide every single day- or one every 65 minutes.
A similar study published about the same time in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, vol.79 authored by doctors Leo Sher, MD; Maria Braquehais, MD.; Miquel Casas MD, PhD., which corroborated the VA study and noted “Combat Vets are not only more likely to have suicidal ideation, often associated with PTSD and depression, but they are more likely to act on a suicidal plan.”
All recent administrations of both parties have bemoaned the problem, but the 2013 VA study clarified the staggering depth of the problem. It was time for something to change.
A U.S. Government agency in charge of military healthcare should be a serious, cautionary red light to all those who favor “Universal” or socialist healthcare. A prime example is revealed in the Agent Orange issue. Following years of struggling to have “mystery illnesses attributed the chemicals frequently used during that long conflict. The wheels of justice finally began to turn in 1979 for Viet Nam Vets awaiting compensation and coverage already suffering the ill effects of the toxin. Agent Orange was designed to denude the thick jungles for better visual air attacks. It wasn’t until November 2010, however, that the VA announced that it will cover additional disability compensation for hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease– all linked to Agent Orange exposure. How many sick and aging heroes died waiting for those funds?
That same year, 2010, the VA finally unveiled new regulations making it easier for men and women who served in the armed forces to receive benefits for PTSD. Following years of red tape and foot dragging, now a veteran only needs to demonstrate that they served in a war and performed a job during which trauma may have been encountered. While an improvement, it wasn’t enough.
Serious scandals and gross mismanagement have dogged the VA Hospital system for years. Candidate Donald Trump picked up the VA issue as a resonating platform issue in 2015 and hasn’t stopped advocating for change and improvements. Candidate Trump highlighted not only the ridiculous wait times for sick Veterans to be awarded appointments-he advertised that the waiting lists were killing people in the que, and addressed the issue of gross mismanagement and the inability to fire government employees. Additionally, Candidate Trump took on the terrible legacy of the Veteran Suicide Epidemic and the unresolved PTSD issues which continue to ruin the lives of those who have served their country honorably in difficult, dangerous situations.
Once elected, President Trump wasted no time setting to work. He did have to shuffle through several Secretary of Veteran Affairs to find someone who could rattle the entrenched malaise and get the job done. It continues to be a work in progress.
June 23, 2017 – President Trump signed into law the Department of VA Accountability and Protection Act of 2017 giving department leaders the ability to fire inept employees and protect those who uncover and report the wrongdoing.
March 7, 2018 – The VA inspector general releases his findings that the VA has” for years suffered a series of systemic and programmatic failures to consistently deliver timely and quality patient care thus heightening the potential for waste, fraud and abuse of government resources.” America wasn’t surprised at this open secret and now watched to see what President Trump would do.
June 6, 2018 – President Trump signs the VA Mission Act. The legislation expands veteran’s access to private health care and also provides $5.2 billion for the VA’s Choice program.
July 23, 2018 – After a shuffle of personnel, the Senate confirms Robert Wilkie as the new Secretary of VA.
March 5, 2019 – President Trump signs an executive order to empower Veterans and end Veteran Suicide. According to the VA press release, “This National Initiative to empower Vets and End Veteran Suicide focuses on improving the quality of life for America’s Veteran’s and ending the tragedy of Veteran Suicide. The Executive Order mandates the establishment of the Veteran Wellness, Empowerment and Suicide Prevention Task Force and them tells them what to do:
- The order gives the Task Force one year to develop a comprehensive national public health roadmap outlining the specific strategies needed to lower effectively the rate of Veteran suicide- with a focus on community engagement.
- Design and propose to Congress a program for making grants to local communities which will increase their ability to collaborate with each other, integrate service delivery and coordinate resources to Veterans.
- To develop a national research strategy to improve the coordination, monitoring, benchmarking and execution of research in the field of Veteran Suicide prevention.
Secretary Wilke noted, “We are committed to saving Veteran lives, but just as there is no single cause of suicide, no single organization can end Veteran Suicide alone.” He continued, “We must work side by side with our partners at all levels of government- and in the private sector- to provide our Veterans with the mental health and suicide prevention services they need. This executive order advances the public health approach to suicide prevention further by identifying key integrations and connections across the federal government and communities that can be used to save Veteran’s lives.”
President Trump has been a man of his word and his efforts in this area (and others) have gone largely unreported by the Main Stream Media who prefer to bash his efforts as well as his administration. While any attention dedicated to ending this horrible waste of America’s best and brightest heroes is to be applauded, there is no time to waste in curtailing and eliminating this horrendous suicide epidemic. To date, President Trump has accomplished more for Veteran health and wellness than any of his predecessors. However, with much left to do, and given their lethargic track record, one must question if the Veteran’s Administration is the best group to be taking on this critical, life-or-death mission.
America is watching.