On March 5, 2019, President Trump released Executive Order 13861, the National Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End Suicide. The Executive Order begins by outlining the magnitude of the problem – stating that an average of twenty service members and veterans die by suicide each day – and emphasizing the need for a collaborative, multi-pronged approach to solve this public health crisis. Specifically, the Executive Order calls upon all levels of government (federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal) and other sectors (academia, employers, members of faith-based and other communities, non-governmental and non-profit organizations, first responders, and the veteran community) to join in the response.
The Executive Order calls for “a comprehensive national public health roadmap” (i.e., the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide; PREVENTS) to guide suicide intervention efforts, set research priorities, and bolster private-public partnerships with the goal of ultimately preventing suicide among veterans. Additionally, the Order calls for the establishment of the Veteran Wellness, Empowerment, and Suicide Prevention Task Force, which will be chaired by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. The Task Force will also consist of Secretaries of relevant Departments, including the Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Homeland Security, among others. Within one year of the order’s date, the Task Force is required to develop PREVENTS, deliver a legislative proposal to provide local grants addressing veteran suicide to the Office of Management and Budget, and produce a National Research Strategy with the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Task Force is charged with overseeing implementation of the roadmap in the second year following the date of the Order, and will terminate two years after submission of the roadmap to the President.
The Executive Order was released in response to the more than 6,000 veteran suicides per year from 2008 to 2016. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide accounted for 45,000 people in 2016, making it the tenth overall leading cause of death in the United States. And, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs report, the suicide rate among veterans was 1.5 that of non-veteran adults in 2016. The 116th Congress has taken note of this public health crisis by introducing bills including the Veteran Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act of 2019 (HR 100, 116th Congress) and the Reach Every Veteran in Crisis Act (S 606, 116th Congress).