Tester Leads 30 Senators Urging VA to Follow Through on Promises Under Administration’s 2018 Executive Order to End Veteran Suicide Epidemic

Following historic signing of Tester’s veteran suicide prevention bill, Senators raise alarm over Administration’s inability to fully implement provisions under President Trump’s Executive Order to expand critical mental health resources to nation’s heroes

(U.S. Senate) – Following the historic signing of his landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act this week, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester is leading 30 colleagues in a push for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to follow through on authorities under President Donald Trump’s Executive Order (EO) 13822 to increase veterans’ access to mental health care.

The Senators also urged the Administration to aggressively implement critical provisions and new authorities under the law to provide more veterans with the mental health resources they need and earned.

“More than 6,000 veterans die by suicide annually, and each loss of life is immeasurable,” Tester and his colleagues wrote to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Congress has done its part by providing consistent and robust resources for VA’s mental health budget and developing and passing comprehensive veterans’ mental health care legislation, most recently the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. Hopefully the issuance of EO 13822 was more than a hollow press opportunity by the Administration, and we can expect it to do right by our nation’s military and veterans by fully implementing the EO and all laws passed by Congress focused on mental health and suicide prevention.”

In parallel with Congress’ effort to end the veteran suicide epidemic, President Donald Trump signed EO 13822 on January 9, 2018, promising to make significant changes to improve the transition experience and connect servicemembers to mental health resources. However—almost three years after the EO was signed—VA failed to complete critical authorities under this order.

The members highlighted, “At the EO signing, Secretary Shulkin stated this expanded mental health care benefit would be available by March 9, 2018. However, almost three years later, the Department has not increased access to mental health care, leaving up to 60 percent of newly transitioned servicemembers without access to life-saving care. Also troubling, the Joint Action Plan for implementing EO 13822 contains no references or commitments to providing transitioning servicemembers with this one year of mental health care. When can veterans expect to receive access to the essential mental health care promised to them by the Trump Administration?”

Tester has been leading the charge in Congress to connect our nation’s servicemembers and veterans with mental health resources to heal invisible wounds of war following their service. As Ranking Member, he introduced bipartisan legislation last Congress to bolster VA’s mental health workforce and increase rural veterans' access to care, while expanding veterans’ access to alternative and local treatment options like animal therapy, outdoor sports and activities, yoga, and acupuncture. President Trump signed Tester’s monumental bill into law this past week. 

A copy of the Members’ letter can be found HERE.