President Donald Trump announced a $53 million, two-year roadmap to address a persistently high number of suicides among U.S. military veterans.
“Veteran suicide is a tragedy this country started measuring in the decades following the Civil War, but one that sadly went unaddressed for generations,” the president said during a White House address on June 17.
Trump signed an executive order in March 2019 mandating the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicides (PREVENTS). A Cabinet-level task force was then created to design the campaign, which was launched on June 17.
“Today, my administration is taking steps to ensure the men and women who bravely fought for us when they were called will be given the care and attention they need during some of their darkest hours,” Trump said.
Military veterans are 1.5 times more vulnerable to suicide than non-veterans, and about 6,000 veterans commit suicide every year, a senior administration official said earlier in a background press call, while female veterans are 2.2 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
Most of the veterans don’t go to Department of Veteran Affairs facilities for health care, the official said.
“Approximately 20 veterans and Guardsmen commit suicide a day. And, unfortunately, very—only about 30 percent, 6 of those 20, have any connection to VA,” the official added.
According to last year’s National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the number of veteran suicides increased to 16.8 per day in 2017 from 15.9 in 2005. Firearms were used in 70.7 percent of male veterans’ suicides and 43.2 percent of female veterans suicides in 2017.
PREVENTS is based on three key deliverables—the roadmap, a 60-page document based on 10 recommendations and nine priorities, is one key aspect of the program. Recommendations include suicide surveillance and a public health campaign.
Another objective is a National Research Strategy that aims at understanding the context, improving how to access data about suicide, and to understand how to effectively intervene.
The third target, according to the White House officials, will be a legislative proposal. The federal administration over the next year will study what’s already happening and will look into funding available across various government agencies.
“But we’ve also been tracking and looking and meeting and talking with legislators and those advocates who are working so that we can see: What are the gaps, and what needs to be added to what already is there?” said the senior administration official.
To ensure the third deliverable, the federal government will also study what’s available at the community level and how to coordinate and support what is already being delivered.
“PREVENTS aims to bring together stakeholders across all levels of government and in the private sector to work side by side to provide our veterans with the mental health and suicide prevention services they need,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.
The Trump administration will also begin a National Suicide Prevention Activation Campaign in the next few weeks—that aims to bring awareness about suicide and mental health.
The campaign, which is to include coordinated messaging from various government and non-government partners and messaging on national digital, radio, and television, will focus on states with a higher concentration of veterans.
Among those who will take part in the public awareness campaign include Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.