President Trump is set to sign an executive order on Tuesday aimed at helping veterans transition from military service back into civilian life, and thus help reduce the rate of veteran suicides.
The executive order will give administration officials 60 days to come up with a plan for helping veterans access mental health and suicide prevention services during their first year out of the military, the White House said on Tuesday ahead of the signing.
Reducing veterans' suicide is “one of our top priorities,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, citing research that shows roughly 20 veterans take their life each day.
"That is just an unacceptable number, and we are focused on doing everything that we can to try to prevent these veterans' suicides," Shulkin told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday.
"People may not realize the reason why we're doing this, is that the highest risk for veterans' suicide is in the 12 months following transitioning out of the service," Shulkin added.
An administration official said the new efforts would cost "in the magnitude of a couple hundred million dollars a year," and said funding would come from existing resources at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department.
In addition to providing more accessible mental health services at the VA and in the private sector, the policy change will direct the Pentagon to offer more aid to service members as they leave the military.
"The issue here is looking at the transition as a process and not an event," an administration official said.
Trump has frequently cited progress at the VA as one of his administration's top accomplishments. During his first year in office, the VA took advantage of accountability legislation by disciplining more employees, advocated for the expansion of a program that allows veterans to seek care in the private sector and created a new veterans' complaint hotline.