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Goal 3 in the joint action plan for supporting transitioning veterans features the Easy Button, intended to "provide immediate and continuous access to VA health care for all transitioning Service members during the first 12 months post-transition. The Easy Button will provide resources and a straight path into mental health care for those who are eligible."

Goal 3 in the joint action plan for supporting transitioning veterans features the Easy Button, intended to "provide immediate and continuous access to VA health care for all transitioning Service members during the first 12 months post-transition. The Easy Button will provide resources and a straight path into mental health care for those who are eligible." (VA illustration)

WASHINGTON – The White House approved a plan for three federal agencies to provide more mental health services to servicemembers transitioning from the military, a population at increased risk for suicide, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday.

In January, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that required the VA, Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan by March 9 on how to provide mental health care seamlessly to new veterans and implement that plan within 180 days.

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin helped develop the plan, but he was fired March 28. The VA sent its final version of its plan to the White House on May 3. Now that it’s been approved, the VA plans to follow up with a status report and cost estimate to the White House in July.

Peter O’Rourke, the new acting VA secretary as of Wednesday, promised the plan would make it easier for servicemembers to transition into civilian life.

“This collaborative effort represents a critical first step for ensuring that servicemembers transitioning from active duty to veteran status understand that VA, DOD and DHS are committed to easing the stress of transition by providing the best mental health care possible,” O’Rourke said in a prepared statement.

The plan states the VA and Defense Department will conduct mental health screenings on all transitioning servicemembers before they separate, and then intervene with people at risk of suicide. The agencies said they would begin that process this month and fully implement it by December.

One of the agency’s goals is to reach out to transitioning servicemembers within 90 days of their expected date of separation with information on available resources, and then continue calling them at regular intervals. The VA also wants to allow servicemembers to apply online for VA health care during their transition briefings.

The plan also includes an expansion of the Defense Department’s Military OneSource, which provides support to active duty servicemembers and their families. The program currently offers support to servicemembers for 180 days after they leave the military. The DOD will extend the cutoff date to one year after troops exit.

Enlisted servicemembers leave the military at a rate of about 245,000 each year, the agencies reported. The VA estimates about 32,000 more servicemembers would seek mental health care through the VA as a result of the changes.

Wentling.nikki@stripes.com Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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