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IAVA Praises President’s Executive Action Supporting Veterans

New York, NY (August 26, 2014) – Today at the American Legion’s 96th Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in his first major policy speech on veterans care since the VA scandal began in April, President Obama announced executive action to improve care and support for veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the largest organization representing post-9/11 veterans and their families, today praised the Administration for taking steps to restore the trust in VA, provide additional support to our community and reverse the suicide trend among veterans. The executive action was created in consultation with IAVA and includes new initiatives on raising awareness for suicide prevention, mental health research, pilot programs on peer support and more.

IAVA released the following statement on the President’s announcement from CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff:

“IAVA applauds the White House for taking this executive action,” said Rieckhoff. “These initiatives touch on many of the most urgent issues facing our community. These are, however, small steps on the very long road to fully supporting our community and reestablishing trust in the VA. Announcements and promises are easy, and we’ve been here many times before. As we saw after the President’s executive order in 2012, effective implementation of these actions and real change will be the hard part. These steps must be supplemented by congressional action, community support outside of Washington and a clear national strategy for veteran’s care—in particular, a real strategy to combat veteran suicide. This summer, IAVA members had their trust in the VA and the President completely shattered. After a tumultuous season of scandal, our members expect the Administration to consistently lead for veterans. Supporting our community can’t be just a one-off event or speech filled with more promises. Our veterans need a sustained, focused effort with measurable outcomes that span the rest of the Obama Presidency. With this Executive Order, President Obama is starting respond to the scope of the challenges we face in the wake of the VA scandal and more than a decade of war. But, our community needs and deserves much more.”

Rieckhoff added, “We’re extremely disappointed President Obama did not explicitly announce his support for the Clay Hunt SAV Act (H.R 5059). Lives are on the line. We are losing 22 veterans to suicide each day. Although this executive action is helpful, it is not the final remedy. We need the President to lead the entire nation in an effort to battle veteran suicide. We encourage the President to engage with IAVA leaders across the country this coming September during National Suicide Prevention Month to construct a concrete strategy that will really combat veteran suicide.”

According to IAVA’s 2014 Member Survey, a majority of respondents think the President (54 percent) and Congress (69 percent) are doing a poor job of improving the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Sixty-eight percent of VA mental health users reported challenges scheduling an appointment. Forty-seven percent of respondents know at least one Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide, while 40 percent of respondents know someone who has died by suicide, up three points from 2013. A staggering 31 percent of respondents have thought about taking their own life since joining the military, a one percent increase from 2013.

Combating veteran suicide is IAVA’s top priority in 2014. In March during Storm the Hill, the organization’s premiere advocacy week in Washington, IAVA launched the “We’ve Got Your Back: IAVA’s Campaign to Combat Suicide.” The historic, yearlong effort comprises three goals: 1) passing the Clay Hunt SAV Act, 2) getting President Obama to take Executive Action and 3) connecting one-million post-9/11 veterans with transitional resources. IAVA members continue to call on President Obama to issue and Executive Order specifically focused on veteran suicide and reflective of IAVA’s Six Principles of Excellence for Combating Suicide (AC5) presented to the White House in March.

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