President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced 19 new executive actions for treating mental health problems and for suicide prevention of American veterans, saying that helping veterans means more than just reforming the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We have to end this tragedy of suicide among our troops and veterans. as a country” Obama said at the American Legion’s national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We can’t stand idly by on such tragedy. So we are doing even more, more than ever, more awareness, more outreach, more access to mental health care. So long as any service member or veteran is suffering, or feels like they have nowhere to turn, or doesn’t get the support that they need, that means we haven’t done enough.”
“Veterans called for it, we heard you, which is why today I am announcing 19 new executive actions to help improve mental health care for those american heroes and their families,” Obama said.
Among the actions are suicide prevention training to help both military and VA medical personnel spot warning signs; making it easier for service members being treated for mental health issues to continue treatment under the VA system; expanding mental health peer support to veterans being treated in primary care settings; and putting care for mental health treatment to be on a par with other medical treatment.
“We are going to keep saying about include anyone out there who is hurt, is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it is a sign of strength,” Obama said to applause. “Talk to a friend, pick up the phone, you’re not alone. We are here for you and every American needs to know that if you see someone in uniform or a veteran who is struggling, reach out and help them to get help. They were there for America. We now need to be there for them.”
Obama talked about the VA waiting list scandal and said many problems are being addressed by new VA Secretary Robert McDonald. He talked about the legislation he signed to increase funding to the department for veterans to get private treatment if they have to wait for treatment from the VA, and to increase accountability. Meanwhile, under McDonald, the department is working to comply with the Office of Special Counsel’s whistleblower protection certification.
However, there have not been any major firings yet.
“With the new legislation I signed into law, Bob and the VA now have the authority to more quickly remove senior executives who don’t meet our high standard,” Obama said. “If you engage in unethical practices or cover up a serious problem, you should be and will be fired, and, by the way, if you blow the whistle on higher ups, because you’ve identified a legitimate problem, you shouldn’t be punished, you should be protected.”
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