President Joe Biden will call for more resources to prevent veterans suicides and more financial assistance for veterans in danger of losing their homes as part of call for a broad investment in federal support services as part of tonight’s State of the Union address.
The veterans efforts build from last year’s call in the national address for expanded benefits for individuals exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan combat zones. That push culminated in sweeping veterans legislation passed last summer that could help as many as one in every five veterans living in America today.
Christen Linke Young, White House deputy assistant for health and veterans affairs, said the new veteran support efforts are designed to follow up on that success.
“When it comes to meeting our sacred obligation to veterans and their families, this administration has made significant progress,” she said. “The president wants to build on this work and will announce additional actions in the months to come.”
White House officials said as part of the presidential budget for fiscal 2024 (to be unveiled early next month), Biden will push for Congress to “ensure that every veteran has a roof over their head.”
Young said that will be done through a new, yet-unspecified housing assistance entitlement for all veterans. Details of the plan were not made available in advance of the speech.
The number of veterans experiencing homelessness sank more than 11% from the start of 2020 to early 2022. However, federal officials still estimate about 33,000 veterans across the country have no reliable housing options on any given night.
Veterans Affairs officials have seen similar progress in efforts to curb suicide, which claims the lives of about 17 veterans a day across America.
Young said to help push that number down even more, officials plan on providing new funding and resources to states for community-based programs to provide mental health and emergency support services.
The administration will also continue to focus on ‘lethal means safety’ in its suicide prevention efforts for veterans, Young said.
Both of those proposals have been controversial on Capitol Hill in the past. Republicans and Democrats have sparred over the framework for more community-based mental health treatment programs, with Democrats voicing concerns about how and where the money might be spent.
Republicans have criticized lethal means safety efforts by VA as surreptitious gun control policies, despite administration attempts to calm such concerns. Nearly 70% of all veteran suicides involve a firearm, a significantly higher rate than civilians who never served in the military.
White House officials say veterans would also benefit from a host of medical improvement initiatives they hope to make available for all Americans, including expanded cancer research and improved mental health care options.
Whether the plans outlined by Biden in his State of the Union address ever get implemented remain to be seen.
Republicans took control of the House this year after winning a majority of seats in last fall’s midterm elections. They have advocated for significant budget cuts to better balance federal spending, plans that could hinder Biden’s own budget goals.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.