Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
Remarks by Secretary Robert Wilkie
America’s Warrior Partnership 7th Annual Warrior Community Integration Symposium
August 20, 2020
I’m Robert Wilkie, and I’m glad to be part of your seventh annual Warrior Community Integration Symposium.
In July, I joined President Trump in welcoming an amazing man to Washington, DC. Terry Sharpe, a 69-year-old Marine Veteran, arrived from his home in Summerfield, North Carolina.
But Terry didn’t Uber. He marched. It was the seventh time he’s walked over 300 miles to raise awareness about VA’s top clinical priority, Veteran suicide. And his timing couldn’t have been better – it was a perfect capstone to June’s launch of the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide. We call it PREVENTS.
Veteran suicide is preventable. It requires a nation-wide public health approach. And PREVENTS aims to do just that by bringing together faith-based organizations, schools, non-profits, companies big and small, and all levels of government to ensure Veterans get the mental health and suicide prevention services that they need.
While COVID-19 has made it more difficult to make these connections, we’ve risen to the challenge. At VA, we’ve enhanced virtual access to benefits and services with tools like tele-townhalls, COVID Chatbot, MyVA311, the White House VA Hotline, the COVID Quick Start Guide. And that’s just a few. And we have seen massive increases in Veterans’ access to tele-mental health and video-based mental health services.
But there’s still so much more to do. We have to expand partnerships, share best practices, and ensure people know about the federal, state, local, and tribal resources that can help them. The REACH Campaign, part of the PREVENTS strategy, is a great next step.
REACH is about fundamentally changing how we talk about suicide and ensuring Veterans and others in need get the care and support that they deserve. We need everyone we can get to learn about and join the REACH challenge.
And we need leaders, leaders across the country to join the governor’s and mayor’s challenges to prevent suicide among service members, Veterans, and their families. Twenty-eight states are already actively engaged. Every state should participate. It’s about community collaboration at its best and most effective state policy-makers partnering with local leaders to execute comprehensive suicide prevention plans.
So, there is a role for everyone. And America’s Warrior Partnership is critical to making real differences.
Remember that Walking Marine, Terry Sharpe? It’s his kind of inspirational commitment that can help us end the national tragedy of suicide. And I know that commitment is shared by America’s Warrior Partnership.
That spirit of our partnership is best captured in God’s promise to Joshua. It was a promise that General Matthew Ridgway relied on the night before the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions launched the liberation of Europe: “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”
Together, we will neither fail nor forsake our Veterans, and we’re proud to be working with you.To Jim Lorraine and everyone at America’s Warrior Partnership, thanks for your hard work and devotion to America’s Veterans.