What Trump Should Do If He Actually Cares About Veterans
By Abigail Simard
On Veteran’s Day, President Trump attended the New York City Veteran’s Day Parade “to express the everlasting love and loyalty of 327 million Americans.”
In his speech to honor veterans for the sacrifices they have made for our country, Trump pledged “to always honor our veterans and pay immoral tribute to those who have laid down their lives so that we might be free.”
This wasn’t the first time Trump boasted about how much he has done for veterans. Earlier this year, the president gave a speech on the Fourth of July claiming that he “actually came up with the idea” to allow veterans to see doctors outside of the VA system. While the Trump administration did expand the program, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act was actually passed in 2014. Even if Trump did have the idea before Obama, he definitely wasn’t the first president to execute it.
It’s clear that Trump has been making tireless efforts to portray himself as a president that loves veterans as much as he loves America, but if this is true, he can’t love America as much as he says he does. Because his actions speak for themselves, and they deliver a clear message: Trump doesn’t actually care about veterans.
It’s a bold statement, especially about a president who just called the US Armed Forces “the greatest warriors to ever walk the face of the Earth.” Yet despite how often Trump praises our troops, his actions─or lack thereof─are rarely in the best interest of America’s veterans.
In the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, an estimated 6,139 veterans were lost to suicide, a number that has remained above 6,000 for years. Trump’s response? The PREVENTS initiative, which creates a Cabinet-level task force intended to lay out a strategy to prevent suicide among veterans.
It is easy to look at this initiative as a legitimate action on the part of the government to support veterans, but this isn’t exactly the case. The task force has up to a year to submit a strategy to reduce the veteran suicide rate─a time period where we are likely to lose another 6,000 veterans.
This is an issue that can’t wait. So rather than wait for the Trump administration to pass specific measures to prevent suicides, there are two things Republicans should be doing if they care about veterans as much as they claim to.
The first obvious problem is healthcare. Almost two million veterans are living without health insurance. As alarming as this number is, it’s also important to note how significantly it has dropped since the implementation of Obamacare. The amount of uninsured veterans dropped 40 percent from 2013 to 2015, with vets gaining insurance regardless of age, gender, or education level.
Yet plans to gut Obamacare under the Trump administration raise concerns about the number of uninsured veterans taking another dive. If this happens, more veterans would lack the improved mental healthcare that is imperative to any measures to prevent suicide.
If Trump and other Republicans truly expect their initiative to reduce suicide rates among veterans, they would do well to look at their own plans to limit the accessibility of mental health services.
However, even if mental health services are widely accessible, suicide rates won’t change drastically until America’s gun problem is addressed.
The conversation surrounding gun violence in America has begun to center around mass shootings and homicides, but nearly two thirds of gun deaths are suicides. This is largely due to the fact that the presence of a gun increases the risk of suicide death by three times.
Opponents of gun control are quick to jump to the assumption that someone who intends to kill themselves will do so regardless of the method, but this isn’t true. Less than five percent of all suicide attempts where guns are not involved result in death─but when a gun is involved, the rate of death is as high as 85%.
This reality is especially devastating for veterans: almost 70% of veteran suicides involve firearms, compared to around 48% of non-veteran suicides.
Looking at these statistics, it is obvious that national action on gun violence could drastically reduce suicide rates, but Republicans are too busy denying the gun problem to pass these measures that will actually prevent veteran suicide.
Regardless of party, all Americans seem to agree that people who fight for their country should be able to live comfortably when they come home. The president himself made the declaration on Veterans Day that “Together, we must safeguard what generations of fearless patriots gave everything to secure.”
Trump isn’t wrong: a country that doesn’t protect its veterans can hardly call themselves patriotic. But if Trump and his Republican allies are going to preach this loyalty to veterans on national holidays, it is time for their actions to align with their words.
Lives depend on it.
Abigail Simard is a freshman studying Creative Writing and English, from Farmington, Connecticut.