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NEWS | Sept. 4, 2019

Executive order offers better access to mental health resources

By David Vergun

An executive order signed last year by President Donald J. Trump has already been especially helpful to transitioning service members, said Karin Orvis, the director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office.

Orvis spoke at the 2019 VA/DOD Suicide Prevention Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, Aug. 29.

Executive Order 13822, "Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service to Civilian Life," directs the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security "to come together and ensure we have seamless access to mental health care and suicide prevention resources for transitioning service members and recent veterans, particularly during their first year of transition after separation or retirement," she said.

The first year of transition is particularly stressful for many service members, Orvis noted.

After the executive order was signed, the three departments drafted a joint action plan that contained 16 initiatives, she said, noting that 10 initiatives have already been completed.

The plan has two broad goals:

• First is to ensure all transitioning service members and veterans are aware of and understand the mental health resources available to them.
• Second is meeting the needs of at-risk service members and veterans, to include improving mental health care and suicide prevention services, particularly for those identified as high risk.

Orvis provided two examples.

The Transition Assistance Program has been enhanced to include information on VA benefits, she said, particularly mental health resources for the first year after separation and beyond. TAP provides information, training and resources to service members as they plan to transition from the military into civilian life.

Also as part of TAP, there's also now a facilitated registration in the VA health care system that walks service members through the process of registering for VA benefits, Orvis said.

TAP also focuses on providing psychosocial help, including peer support, for individuals at high risk and in need of support, she said.

Other areas of the program focus on identifying and assisting veterans who might be at risk for homelessness, in need of transportation or assistance with unemployment benefits, Orvis said.

There's also now a mandatory separation health assessment included in TAP that must be completed by all transitioning service members no later than 180 days before their separation date, she said.

The assessment includes a mental health component.

Second, Military OneSource availability has been extended. It was originally offered to service members for only up to 180 days after separation or retirement. It's now available for a full year, and offers help with taxes, spousal employment, a variety of training and education and relocation assistance. There is also help for those who are having interpersonal or relationship issues.