1:52 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, thank you very much. And I want to thank Secretary Shulkin, Secretary Nielsen, and Deputy Secretary Shanahan for joining us as we take yet another historic step to make sure our incredible veterans — and that they’re taking care of — that they’re being taken care of in a proper manner. So important.
We want them to get the highest care and the care that they so richly deserve, and I’ve been working very hard on that with David and with everybody. It’s something that is a top priority.
We’re also honored to be joined by Acting National Director of Suicide Prevention, Dr. Franklin, and three veterans who now work supporting their fellow veterans at the VA — all experts and tremendous people.
We’ve already made tremendous strides in delivering for our veterans, including passage of long-awaited veterans accountability legislation — one of the things I’m most proud of.
For many years, they tried to pass veterans accountability and they couldn’t do it; they failed. And after almost 40 years, we got it passed. And now when somebody doesn’t do the job over at the VA, we fire that person. When somebody is bad to our great veterans, even statistically bad, we fire those people — get them out and go after them.
And we have a creation of a 24-hour veterans hotline. And these were two of my campaign promises. But getting to me — getting the veterans accountability legislation passed, done through the House, through the Senate, and I signed it was a big moment for the veterans.
In a few moments, we’ll sign a new executive order that directs the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs to develop, in the next 60 days, a joint action plan for improving the availability of lifesaving mental health services for our veterans. A lot of focus on our veterans, and they’re the people we should be focusing on, along with everybody else. But we really put a very great deal of focus on our veterans. Great, great people.
The joint action plan will describe concrete actions we must take to ensure every single veteran who needs mental health and suicide prevention services will receive them immediately upon their separation from military service. They get out of the military, and they had nobody to talk to, nobody to speak to. And it’s been a very sad situation, but we’re taking care of them.
We will not rest until all of America’s great veterans receive the care they’ve earned through their incredible service and sacrifice to our country. And, again, I want to thank David Shulkin. I want to thank everybody behind me and everybody on that side of the room for having done such an incredible job.
I’m honored to be at the forefront of the greatest strides ever made at the VA for our veterans, and it’s not even close. And it has been so adjudged.
So thank you all very much, I appreciate it. Thank you.
We just had a very good meeting, I might add, on DACA, and I think the results are going to be terrific. But we had a very good meeting.
I will sign this. And, David, who am I giving this pen to? How about David? We give it to David, right? Is that all right?
SECRETARY SHULKIN: That would be great.
THE PRESIDENT: So this is supporting our veterans during their transition from uniformed service to civilian life, taking some of their difficulty away.
(The executive order is signed.) (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: This to me is a very important bill. Thank you. (Applause.) I think this should go to David.
SECRETARY SHULKIN: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: You’re doing a great job. We appreciate you.
SECRETARY SHULKIN: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Go ahead, please.
SECRETARY SHULKIN: Mr. President, as you know, at the Department of Veterans Affairs, preventing veteran suicide is our top priority, and something you talked about in the campaign and you and I have talked about many times since. Twenty veterans a day are taking their life through a suicide — something that’s just totally unacceptable.
So under your leadership, with this executive order, we’re taking an unprecedented action today in that we will be covering all separating military members who are transitioning into civilian life — 100 percent of them — with the mental health benefit for 12 months.
And here are the important reasons. What you may not know is, is that that 12-month period after you leave service is the highest risk for suicide. Almost one and a half to two times highest risk in that first twelve months when you leave the service.
And currently, up until your executive order, only 40 percent of those servicemembers had coverage in the VA to get mental health. Now 100 percent will have that coverage, and it’s the full array of services that the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs will be able to provide in terms of mental health coverage.
I just want to thank Secretary Nielsen, Deputy Secretary Shanahan, Secretary Mattis, of course. Under your leadership, we’ve all come together. And with the Office of American Innovation and the Domestic Policy Office, you’ve brought together everything that will allow us to do this in the next 60 days.
So starting March 9th, this is a reality for our country’s veterans that they will have this mental health coverage. So thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I’m very happy to have helped, and I think our veterans, above all else, are happy. They are — the strides that we’ve made at the VA have been — I don’t know if they’ve been reported very much. You could tell me better than me. I haven’t seen as much as we should see, but I will tell you every time I talk to somebody, they’re thanking us — all of us as a group — for what we’ve done for the Veterans Administration.
Thank you all very much for being here. Thank you. Thank you.
1:58 P.M. EST