President Donald Trump pledged to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA. He signed a bill that would open up private care for veterans and celebrated his success. It’s been nearly a year and veterans are still killing themselves while sitting in VA parking lots, the Washington Post reported.
“We won’t forget what happened to our GREAT VETS,” Trump tweeted last year before Democrats took over Congress. “Choice is vital, but the program needs work & is running out of $. Congress must fix Choice Program by Memorial Day so VETS can get the care they deserve. I will sign immediately!”
This spring marks 4yrs since the Phoenix VA crisis. We won’t forget what happened to our GREAT VETS. Choice is vital, but the program needs work & is running out of $. Congress must fix Choice Program by Memorial Day so VETS can get the care they deserve. I will sign immediately!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018
The bill included $5.2 billion for the Choice Program.
“Since taking office, and working alongside of the VFW — and, by the way, your representatives have done an incredible job on helping us with the VA,” Trump told the VFW in 2018. “A complicated subject. So many different things. They help us so much. Because we put in legislation — I said, let’s make sure it’s legislation that’s good and that works, not legislation that’s obsolete before we even get it. If we’re going to fight like hell to get everybody to approve it, let’s get approved what’s good. And we’ve enacted some of the largest VA reforms in the history of the VA. Probably the largest.”
He went on to tout his executive order creating the “White House Veterans Hotline,” which has no connection to the White House and goes to a call center in West Virginia.
“As promised, we established the White House VA Hotline, and every VA medical center now offers same-day emergency mental healthcare,” he told the VFW.
Just over six months later, the Post is detailing the outbreak of veteran suicides taking place in VA parking lots across the country.
Justin Miller, a 33-year-old Marine Corps trumpet player and Iraq veteran “was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts when he checked into the Minneapolis Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in February 2018.” He spent four days in the mental-health unit before walking out to his truck and shooting himself.
His death was one of 19 veteran suicides in parking lots in just one year. According to The Military Times, the suicide rate for younger veterans has increased by more than 10 percent. Active-duty Army suicides reached their highest level since 2012, the military-centric site Task and Purpose reported in January. The Army lost 300 soldiers to suicide in 2018. Marine suicides also reached its highest level in a decade, despite the large-scale combat operations ending. Navy suicides joined the other branches, reaching it’s highest level since 2006, when data began being recorded.
Given the resources and attention to veterans and their mental health from the Trump administration, it’s unclear why the rate increased and the White House hasn’t commented. The VA also declined to comment to the Post, citing privacy concerns.
The only good news seems to be that the VA managed to prevent 233 suicide attempts between Oct. 2017 and Nov. 2018 on hospital grounds.