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Obama to announce VA initiatives today at American Legion convention

Aug. 26, 2014 - 04:37PM   |  
Barack Obama
President Obama speaks about veterans issues at the American Legion's 96th National Convention on Aug. 26 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C.. (Charles Dharapak / AP)
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The White House is unveiling a slate of executive actions Tuesday designed to ease troops’ transition from military to civilian life and boost veterans medical-care options in the wake of scandals at the Veterans Affairs Department.

The new moves include more than $100 million in new suicide prevention efforts, a recruiting campaign to bring thousands of medical professionals into VA hospitals, the automatic enrollment of troops with mental-health issues in VA care programs, and a guide for civilian physicians on how to identify and treat post-traumatic stress.

President Obama will detail the new initiatives during his remarks at the annual American Legion convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Officials said the moves are designed to ensure the government is “fulfilling promises to service members, veterans and their families.”

The new mental-health offerings follows years of initiatives from the Defense Department and VA to curb suicides among troops and veterans, with mixed results.

A $34 million suicide-prevention study will involve more than 1,800 veterans at 29 VA hospitals, and a $79 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program will develop neurotechnologies to deal with diseases like PTSD and depression.

The Pentagon and National Institutes of Health will also launch a new study focused on early detection of suicidality and traumatic brain injuries. And VA mental-health staffers will offer a pilot program expanding current peer support offerings.

This November, the White House’s Joining Forces initiative will host a national wellness week focused on military health issues, inviting civilian and military organizations to discuss military “cultural competency” and challenges facing veterans’ family members.

In addition to the health actions, the White House will work with loan servicers on ensuring that troops’ mortgages and student loans aren’t charged interest rates above legal limits, shifting the burden off military families.

All the moves come just three weeks after Obama signed into law a comprehensive VA reform bill passed in response to scandals regarding veterans wait times for medical appointments.

The president is expected to address that issue, the VA disability claims backlog, veterans homelessness and post-military employment during his speech to the convention attendees.

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