The New York Times reported on a Government Accountability Office report that contained a scathing indictment of how the Trump administration has been completely dropping the ball when it comes to suicide prevention programs for veterans, including allowing millions of dollars that were budgeted for suicide outreach to go unspent:
Suicide prevention efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs fell off sharply in the last two years, even though reducing the high suicide rate among veterans is the agency’s top clinical priority, according to a new report.
With the department’s top management in turmoil, the suicide prevention effort lacked leadership, planning meetings were repeatedly canceled, millions of dollars budgeted for outreach went unspent, and the television and radio ads that had been broadcast thousands of times across the country in previous years went all but silent.
Among those who left was Dr. Caitlin Thompson, the director of the agency’s suicide prevention office. In an interview, she said she resigned in July 2017 because of repeated changes in how the office was overseen and because she felt mounting pressure to produce work that would be politically flashy but have little impact on veterans’ lives.
After Dr. Thompson left, the accountability office’s report said, the suicide prevention office went nearly idle. It spent just $57,000 of its $6.2 million media budget, and its presence on social media, mostly paid posts, declined by 77 percent from the levels of 2015. Meetings were canceled and decisions were deferred because the acting director who replaced her was frequently absent, the report said.
This stunning incompetence by the Trump administration couldn’t come at a worse time. Incidences of suicide among veterans keeps increasing:
The suicide rate among veterans is about twice that of the general population, and has been rising among younger veterans who served during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“At a time when 20 veterans a day still die by suicide, V.A. should be doing everything in its power to inform the public about the resources available to veterans in crisis,” Representative Tim Walz, the Minnesota Democrat who requested the investigation, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, V.A. failed to do that.”
Donald Trump and his administration have shown over and over again that they don’t seem to care about veterans at all. This complete lapse by the Veterans Administration in properly administering suicide prevention programs for veterans points to a deeply dysfunctional agency. Part of the reason for that dysfunction can be traced back to the fact that decision making for the Veteran’s Administration has been done by a group of civilian friends of Donald Trump from Mar-a-Lago:
A new report from ProPublica found that three civilian men operating out of Mar-a-Lago and led by the chairman of Marvel Entertainment have been shaping the Department of Veterans Affairs at the highest levels during the Trump administration, working behind the scenes to push for projects, benefit their own interests, and push out people within the department’s leadership who opposed them.
In documents and interviews, ProPublica found that the three men had been part of the daily leadership of the agency, actively reviewing and weighing in on regular policy and personnel decisions.
Ike Perlmutter, the Marvel chairman, regularly talks to President Trump on the phone and acts as his go-to adviser on veterans issues, ProPublica reported. After Trump asked Perlmutter for help during his transition, Perlmutter offered to be an outside adviser, choosing the VA as his focus because he fought for Israel in the 1960s before moving to the U.S. Perlmutter, 75, then brought on two of his friends: Bruce Moskowitz, 70, a Palm Beach doctor, and Marc Sherman, 63, a lawyer. None of the three have ever served in the U.S. government or military.
The decisions these civilian Mar-a-Lago friends seem to be making for the Veterans Administration don’t seem to be in favor of actual veterans, as exhibited by the fact that the Trump administration has also been lobbying against a bill to provide disability benefits to Vietnam and Korean War Navy Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange:
Using the last arrow in their quiver, veteran groups and service organizations urged President Donald Trump on Wednesday to use his personal influence with two Republican senators to persuade them to allow a vote on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (HR 299) before the 115th Congress expires next week.
In a joint letter hand-delivered to the White House, seven groups representing a combined five million veterans asked Trump to issue “a public statement of support for the legislation, indicating that you would sign this bill.”
Passed by the House unanimously in June, the Blue Water Navy bill stalled for months in the Senate, in part because, by August, the Department of Veterans Affairs under new Secretary Robert Wilkie had begun attacking it vigorously with the encouragement of the veteran policy officials in the Trump White House.
It also isn’t just Trump’s unelected Mar-a-Lago friends that don’t seem to place much importance on helping veterans.
Donald Trump himself has repeatedly done things to disrespect veterans.
For example, recent news about Donald Trump having to shut down his charitable foundation due to repeated illegalities included a description of how the Trump Foundation used a national event featuring military veterans to raise money for veterans charities. They then disbursed those funds specifically to groups in Iowa right before the Iowa caucus, in order to help the Trump Campaign:
The suit says that Underwood’s office discovered that the Trump Foundation raised more than $2.8 million that it used for the 2016 election, including donations Trump raised at a nationally televised event featuring military veterans that he held on Jan. 28, 2016, as an alternative to his participation in a presidential primary debate held in Iowa. “In violation of state and federal law, senior Trump campaign staff, including Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski, dictated the timing, amounts, and recipients of grants by the Foundation to non-profits, as evidenced by communications between Campaign staff and Foundation representatives,” the attorney general’s office pointed out.
In November, Donald Trump visited France to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War I, yet Donald Trump skipped a planned trip to pay his respects to U.S. soldiers who died fighting in that war because it was raining:
Donald Trump‘s visit to a First World War cemetery was called off by the White House because of poor weather.
The US leader was set to visit the Aisne-Marne American cemetery in the French village of Belleau – the site of a 1918 battle in which the Americans and French repelled German forces. More than 1,800 Americans died there.
The battle looms large in the history of the US Marine Corps.
Mr Trump was supposed to participate in a wreath-laying and a moment of silence at the site, but heavy rain prevented him from arriving via helicopter to the site, which is more than 50 miles east of the French capital.
Speaking to the Associated Press in October, Donald Trump explained why he hasn’t yet visited any military troops who are serving overseas, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama:
The commander-in-chief spoke to the Associated Press Tuesday, and said that while he doesn’t feel it’s “overly necessary” to pay a visit to a military base in a combat zone like Iraq or Afghanistan, he plans to at some point in the future.
“I’ve been very busy with everything that’s taking place here,” he said, before diving into a rambling boast about the state of the country’s economy and unemployment rates.
This was such a ridiculous excuse for any President, but it is made even more ridiculous for Donald Trump, because he has spent 149 days at golf courses in 20 months, almost 25% of his Presidency. Paying a visit to troops serving overseas is apparently much less important to Donald Trump than golfing, which he has no problem making time for.
Also in October, during an interview with Fox and Friends, Trump expressed his gratitude to Devin Nunes in a curious manner:
“Devin Nunes — he should get — if this all turns out like everyone, thinks it will. Devin Nunes should get the Medal of Honor. He should really what he’s gone through and his bravery.”
The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration that may be awarded to recognize U.S. military service members who distinguished themselves by acts of valor.
Devin Nunes, is of course, not in the military. Nor has he done anything that a sane person would define as an “act of valor”. Devin Nunes has instead mostly been trying to use his position within the House Intelligence Committee to obstruct the Mueller Investigation in an attempt to cover-up the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia during the 2016 election
On Memorial Day of this year, Donald Trump sent a tweet that was disrespectful of the military:
The somber speech was a striking departure from a politically-charged tweet the president had sent out earlier surmising “those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud” with his presidency, appearing to politicize what is typically observed as a solemn holiday.
The president’s campaign also used the occasion to blast an email out to supporters advertising a sale on flags, hats, koozies and other merchandise.
“Within the next 14 hours, use the the coupon code “REMEMBER” to save 25% on ANY item in the Official Trump Store,” the email said.
And, of course , there was Trump’s wish for the military to be forced to parade in front of him:
“This parade is a perfect example of Trump’s relationship to the military,” said Alexander McCoy, a former Marine embassy guard and the current communications director for Common Defense, in an email. “Trump doesn’t want to honor the people who served, he wants them to honor him.”
About a year ago, he joked about a military flag raising ceremony:
President Trump sat down for an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity inside a Pennsylvania National Guard hangar in Middletown on Wednesday evening, and while they were discussing GDP growth, a bugle call sounded in the background. “What a nice sound that is — are they playing that for you or for me?” Trump asked, laughing. “They’re playing that in honor of his ratings.” The bugle call was “Retreat,” a signal that the day is done, followed by “To the Color,” which, according to The Washington Post, “signifies the raising or lowering of the American flag on a military installation.” The U.S. Army says “‘To the Color’ commands all the same courtesies as the National Anthem.”
Some of the people in Trump’s audience stood during the bugle calls, but Trump kept talking about the economy. “Although Trump attended a military high school, the commander in chief appeared unaware of the music’s meaning,” says the Post‘s Patrick Martin.
That was around the same time he created a feud with the widow of a soldier who was killed in action:
On Tuesday, Trump called the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in the ambush, as she was on her way to meet her husband’s body. Rep. Frederica Wilson was in the car with Johnson and overheard the conversation, which occurred over speakerphone. Johnson told a radio station that Trump told Johnson that her husband “knew what he signed up for,” causing her to cry.
Then there were several episodes that occurred during his Presidential campaign and before:
Donald J. Trump belittled the parents of a slain Muslim soldier who had strongly denounced Mr. Trump during the Democratic National Convention, saying that the soldier’s father had delivered the entire speech because his mother was not “allowed” to speak.
Without setting foot on a battlefield, Donald Trump said he received a Purple Heart medal on Tuesday at his rally in Ashburn, Virginia, from a retired lieutenant colonel and supporter.
“I said to him, ‘Is that like the real one, or is that a copy?” the Republican nominee said moments after taking the stage at a local high school.
Trump recounted the exchange, remarking that the man, who he identified as retired Lt. Col. Louis Dorfman said, “That’s my real Purple Heart. I have such confidence in you.”
“And I said, ‘Man, that’s like big stuff. I always wanted to get the Purple Heart,” Trump said. “This was much easier.”
“I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me,’’
Speaking with the Retired American Warriors PAC in Virginia, the Republican nominee suggested veterans suffering from PTSD are not “strong” and “can’t handle” the stresses of war.
“When people come back from war and combat and they see things that, maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over, and you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it,” Trump said.
Appearing at the Commander-in-Chief forum on MSNBC, Donald Trump said the generals of the U.S. military were “embarrassing” to America.
Trump said that the generals had been “reduced to rubble.”
“He’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Trump continued to inappropriately compare his civilian experiences to military ones since the Howard Stern appearance. Last year Trump told a biographer that he “always felt like I had been in the military” because of his time at the New York Military Academy, an expensive military-themed boarding school where Trump’s parents sent him because of behavioral problems.
Trump’s disrespect of veterans began long before the current election cycle. On the Howard Stern show back in 1997, sandwiched in between a bunch of embarrassing comments about women, Trump compared his sex life in the 1980s to a war experience.
“I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world. It is a dangerous world out there – it’s scary, like Vietnam. Sort of like the Vietnam era. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier,” Trump bloviated.
To top it all off, Donald Trump has been claiming credit for the Veterans’ Choice Act:
TRUMP: We passed veterans’ choice, giving our veterans the right to see a private doctor, rather than waiting on line for weeks and weeks and weeks. Forty four years they’ve been trying to pass that. I got it passed, it’s signed as of two months ago. It’s finished. Here’s a veteran. Are you happy? Are you happy?
The problem with that: the Veterans’ Choice Act was signed by Barack Obama:
The bill was introduced into the United States House of Representatives during the 113th United States Congress under the name “Pay Our Guard and Reserve Act” as one of the October 2013 mini-continuing resolutions passed by the House during the United States federal government shutdown of 2013. It became law on August 7, 2014.
The law includes access to healthcare at non-VA hospitals for rural veterans, as well as vast increases in staffing and facilities at existing VA medical centers
The bill H.R. 3230 was introduced into the United States House of Representatives on October 2, 2013 by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) as the “Pay Our Guard and Reserve Act“. The bill was referred to the United States House Committee on Appropriations. The bill was one of the October 2013 mini-continuing resolutions passed by the House during the United States federal government shutdown of 2013. On October 3, 2013 the House voted in Roll Call Vote 516 to pass the bill 265-160. On June 11, 2014, the United States Senate changed the name of the bill to the “Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014” and voted to pass the bill 93-3 in Roll Call Vote 187.
Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Jeff Miller said that “many of the provisions included in today’s Senate-passed bill are based on ideas that have already cleared the House, so I’m hopeful both chambers of Congress can soon agree on a final package to send to the president’s desk.” Miller was referring to the Veteran Access to Care Act of 2014 (H.R. 4810; 113th Congress) which contained similar provisions and passed the House on June 10, 2014.
The House and Senate established a conference committee to agree on amendments to the bill. The committee met on June 24, 2014. The House voted to agree to the conference report on July 30, 2014 with a vote of 420-5 in Roll Call Vote 467. The Senate voted to agree to the conference report on July 31, 2014 with a vote of 91-3 in Roll Call Vote 254.President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on August 7, 2014.
Donald Trump obviously has no respect for veterans. He has made that clear over and over again.