East Room Washington D.C. June 17 2:21 P.M. EDT
Thank you very much. (Applause.) Please. Thank you. Good afternoon.
And, before we begin, five years ago, nine innocent parishioners of a historically black church — you all remember this horrible event — were tragically killed during an evening Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. That was a despicable act of evil.
Today, we remember this somber day as our hearts still break for the victims, and our prayers go with all. That was a terrible event. That was a terrible day. Terrible, terrible day for our country, for the world to witness.
Thank you very much for being with us at the White House as we reaffirm our sacred promise to support and protect our great veterans. We love our veterans — and great they are. With honor and courage, these incredible patriots perform their duty to America, and now we must fulfill our duty to them. And that's what we're doing, and we're doing it beyond what anyone has ever done, as President or as an administration.
We're gathered together to address an especially urgent struggle. Today, we're unveiling our Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide. A tremendous problem. Tremendous, tremendous problem.
My administration is marshaling every resource to stop the crisis of veteran suicide and protect our nation's most treasured heroes. They've been through so much, and it's such a deep-seated problem. And we're doing tremendous research and everything you can do, but it is something that nobody quite understands. And they are gaining knowledge, but they don't quite understand it.
And I want to thank our Vice President for being with us. And I especially want to thank, frankly, wonderful Karen Pence, who is so committed to the veterans and this particular problem. And thank you very much, Karen. We appreciate it. (Applause.) Thank you.
Here, as well, are several members of PREVENTS Task Force. "PREVENTS," it's called. "PREVENTS." Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie. Robert, great job. Ninety percent approval rating, the VA. It's way, way up. Ninety percent. (Applause.) That's a number that has never — not even come close to attaining that number, so it's a tremendous job you're doing. Thank you very much.
Secretary of Labor, Gene Scalia. Gene, thank you very much. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar. Alex, thank you. Secretary of Housing and Urban — Housing and Urban Development, the great Ben Carson. Thank you, Ben. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Thanks, Betsy. And Acting Director of OMB, Russ Vought. Thank you, Russ, very much.
Also with us are Surgeon General Jerome Adams — where is Jerome? Jerome? Hi, Jerome. And he got a standing ovation the other day. I introduced him. He got the only standing ovation — Jerome. What was that all about? (Laughter.)
And the executive director of PREVENTS Task Force, Dr. Barbara van Dahlen. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you, Barbara. And representatives from several of our nation's leading veterans groups.
We have tremendous people in this room — people that work so hard for the veterans. And they love our military, they love our country, they love our veterans. Thank you all for being here very much. Very much appreciate it.
From day one, my administration has been on a mission of historic scope and scale to deliver results for our great veterans. After years of shameful scandal and neglect under the Obama-Biden administration — and scandal and neglect it was — we have fundamentally reorganized the VA from top to bottom, and we've reestablished a crucial principle: American veterans deserve the highest standard of care anywhere in the world, and that's what they're getting. Great leadership.
To help veterans get the care they need when they need it, we approved Veterans Choice and made it permanent. And that was a big deal. They've been trying to get it for decades and decades and decades. And we got it. We got it done. And basically, that means if you have a problem and you can't get to a doctor — if it doesn't work, you end up going outside, you get your doctor, we pay the bill, and they get immediate service.
Some of the veterans were forced in past administrations for a long time — beyond the Obama administration, even — but for a long time, they were expected to wait a week and two weeks and three weeks just to get to see a doctor. It was a terrible situation.
Now we have Veterans Choice. They've been trying to get it so long. And it works incredibly well. And I would say that's a reason why, when I say 90 percent approval rating, that's probably one of the big reasons.
Before I took office, every month seemed to bring a new story of crisis at the VA by our friends from the media. But the days of endless and deadly waitlists are over, and they are never going to come back. We're never going to allow them — nobody can allow that to come back, what our vets had to put up with.
I signed the VA Accountability Act into law, and we've removed more than 9,000 VA workers who were not giving our veterans the care, respect, attention that they've earned. And now that we have Accountability — it's "Accountability"; a very nice word — if an employee of government mistreats our veterans in any way, does something wrong, isn't good for the VA, the Secretary looks at them and says, "You're fired. Get out."
Before, you couldn't do that. We had people for years and years. We had stories — I could tell you story after story how bad it was. You had sadists. You had thieves. You had some bad, bad people. So 9,000 have been fired, and they should have been fired a long time ago. But we got Accountability — VA Accountability — passed.
We secured record funding for the VA, including $9.6 billion for mental health services in 2020 — $9.6 billion. Every VA medical facility now offers same-day emergency mental health, something we didn't have or even come close to having.
We have dramatically expanded telehealth for our nation's veterans. And, with COVID, it's really become probably the hottest thing there is in medicine. Wouldn't you say? I think so. It's gone up, in terms of usage, by hundreds of times. It was not picking up until COVID came along, and now it's one of the hottest things you have going in the medical world, allowing people to consult with doctors from the comfort of their homes and not having to go out and not having to make long trips. And they get tremendous advice, I hope.
The promised White House VA hotline that I've been talking about has fielded more than 400,000 calls — right in the White House — successfully resolving 98 percent of veterans' concerns. It's a great thing. We have substantially cut the wait time for veteran appeals, ensuring all issues are resolved in a swift and timely fashion. It goes very quickly now — very, very quickly.
We're modernizing medical records to begin a seamless transition from the Department of Defense to the VA, something others have tried and failed to do. They've tried it for decades. A long time they wanted to do it. It's actually not as easy as it sounds, getting it done, but we got it done.
The VA has also cut opioid prescriptions by 35 percent since 2017, and we're committed to defeating the opioid epidemic in America. We brought it down by as much as 17 percent in some areas; 19, 20 percent in other areas. But that still means you have a lot left and — but a lot of good things are happening.
I have to say, our border, where much of this comes in, drugs come in — we have a drug problem. We have an opioid problem. It's all the same big problem. But our border is now as secure as it's been in many, many years. It's — the wall is now up to mile 212. And wherever we have the wall, that takes care of that area completely. But we're now down to among the lowest numbers we've ever had on the border, and we have — I want to thank the President of Mexico, because we have 17,000 troops right now on the border — Mexican troops — and really helping us a lot.
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