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Vice Presidentís Report, March/April 2023 -   -  
   

The White House Military and Veterans Briefing  

Early in February, I was invited to attend a virtual White House briefing on the State of the Union Address, the day after the Presidentís delivered it to the nation. The briefing was for military and veterans organizations.

Topics centered on the PACT Act, which was recently enacted. Some of the topics covered were of particular interest to VVA, and I would like to share a few of them with you.

While the briefing had some aspects of being a political commercial, it did offer insights on the administrationís priorities, and what the President would like to see done for veterans in the near term.

In his opening statement, the President said he believes there is no more sacred obligation than taking care of the nationís military service members, veterans, and their families, caregivers, and survivors. He cited his administrationís work to make progress connecting veterans and their families to needed resources. The VA claims that in 2022 it processed a record 1.7 million veterans claims and delivered $128 billion in earned benefits to 6.1 million veterans and survivors. While there is no easy way to confirm such numbers, I find little reason to doubt the VAís statistics.

Later, on the topic of reducing veteran suicide, which is of particular concern to VVA, administration representatives acknowledged that suicide rates among veterans have become a public health and national security crisis. Since 2010, more than 71,000 veterans have taken their own lives, which exceeds the total number of deaths during the Vietnam War and the wars in in Iraq and Afghanistan.

DOD and the VA reported a decline in veteran suicide deaths since the implementation of the administrationís new comprehensive strategy for reducing military and veteran suicide. One of the key aspects of this strategy is the Governorís and Mayorís Challenges to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families.

In this program, the VA works with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Defense to partner with 49 states and five territories to develop and implement suicide prevention best practices using a public health approach. To facilitate this effort, the VA will launch a new $10- million program to provide federal resources to states, territories, and Tribes and Tribal organizations to develop and implement proposals.

The VA also plans to use new resources to improve suicide risk in a program called ďKeepitSecure,Ē which will provide and materials to providers, caregivers, and family members of veterans - as well as gun shop owners - to encourage safe storage of firearms and lethal medications. The final portion of the administrationís comprehensive plan involves expanding outreach to veterans in the criminal justice system, many of whom may be at high risk of suicide. Through the veteranís treatment courts and other justice outreach engagements, the VA will provide veterans access to benefits and services that could be life-changing. The VA will accelerate the hiring of veteran justice outreach professionals to expand these programs.

Administration representatives also addressed access to legal support services. We were advised that the VA will expand its current Medical-Legal Partnerships. Family caregivers participating in VAís Program of Comprehensive Assistance will receive financial and legal assistance later this year. The VA will also award up to 75 grants under a new Legal Services for Homeless Veterans and Veterans at Risk for Homeless program.

The administration claims to have permanently housed more than 40,000 veterans since 2020. Additionally, the VA is announcing $30 million in grant funding for organizations to help formerly homeless veterans maintain independence and housing stability.

Mental health services also will be expanded. Veteran peer specialists will work in programs to connect fellow veterans to services, participate as members of health care teams, and provide individual. group-based peer support.

The administration is also urging Congress to reauthorize the National Cancer Act, which 52 years ago set up the National Cancer Institute in its current form. The reauthorization will update the nationís cancer research care system to put American innovations to work to end cancer as we currently know it. Clinical trials will create new data systems to insure that knowledge gained through research is available to all experts in the field.


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