Updated Tuesday at 1:15 p.m.
President Barack Obama announced a handful of new executive actions on Tuesday, aiming to better the mental health care and economic livelihood of military veterans.
The actions are intended to help give veterans “quality health care,” and “every opportunity to pursue the American Dream,” while improving the VA, a White House fact sheet said. The orders will expand on a bill Congress passed earlier this month, allocating $16.3 billion to overhaul the VA.
Speaking to the American Legion at their 96th convention, the president highlighted progress the Department of Veterans Affairs had made and promised even more reform. The address came just months after it was revealed that veterans were waiting months to receive medical care and languishing on secret wait lists at the VA. Both political parties slammed the president and his administration for their handling of crisis, which led to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. The new secretary, Bob McDonald, joined Obama at the Legion on Tuesday to talk about the improvements they’ve made.
“We are going to get to the bottom of these problems. We’re going to fix what is wrong. We’re going to do right by you and we are going to do right by your families, and that is a solemn pledge and commitment that I’m making to you here,” he said to applause.
The White House started the day with a fact sheet full of good news: In 17 months, 50% of the VA’s disability claim backlog has been reduced; a quarter of a million veterans who were on wait lists have been contacted to set up doctor’s appointments; 10,000 schedulers have been trained or retrained; mobile clinics and additional resources like full-time and temporary staff have been deployed to areas that need them, including the Phoenix facility where lengthy wait times were first uncovered; a new recruitment program will attempt to draw better doctors to the VA facilities will launch this week, and the VA will begin releasing information about the accessibility and wait times their hospitals provide. “This is more information than any private hospital in the U.S. provides,” the White House noted.
In his speech, the president added that the VA was “instituting a new culture of accountability” and that whistleblowers would be better protected.
When it comes to mental health care, new executive actions will work to improve PTSD treatment, mental health care awareness, incorporate more mental health care into primary care settings, automatically transition active service members receiving mental health treatment into care through the VA and reform suicide prevention programs.
Meanwhile, the executive actions will also attempt to help military families stay afloat, bolstering military spouse and veteran employment programs, creating a public-private partnership that will help banks better identify and notify active service members’ families that they are eligible for reduced mortgage rates and lower monthly payments, making it easier for service members to both be educated and educate their kids.
“Our service women and men have earned important financial protections under the law, but too many do not exercise these important rights. But when business and government work together we can make a difference,” the White House said.
Veteran homelessness, the president also announced, is down by a third in the last four years—25,000 veterans have moved into housing during that time.