NEW YORK –– Today, Everytown for Gun Safety and its grassroots networks, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, responded to President-elect Joe Biden’s decision to nominate former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough as Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) –– a role that will be instrumental in combating gun violence in America, particularly veteran firearm suicide. Throughout the next four years, Everytown and our Veteran Advisory Council will be standing by to assist as the VA works to address this tragic crisis.
“Veterans Affairs will play a critical role in addressing one of our nation’s deadliest emergencies: gun suicide among veterans,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Denis McDonough worked on this issue before as Obama’s chief of staff, and we are thrilled that President-elect Biden has chosen him to lead this effort in the new administration.”
“Eleven veterans die by gun suicide every day, a uniquely American crisis that is as tragic as it is unacceptable,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “Our veterans need help, and I’m so glad that President-elect Biden has chosen a proven leader like Denis McDonough to provide it.”
“As a veteran raised in a military family, I’ve been familiar with the frequency of suicide across the veteran community, but I never thought I would have such a personal link to this painful problem,” said Amber Schleuning, U.S. Army veteran and a member of the Everytown Veteran Advisory Council, whose fiance, a Marine Corps veteran, died by gun suicide. “We must acknowledge the role of guns in veteran suicide. Denis McDonough is a proven leader who must tackle this deadly crisis, and, on behalf of the veteran community, we will work with him to ensure he does.”
As VA Secretary, Denis McDonough will play a key role in addressing gun suicide among veterans –– a deadly crisis that kills an average of 4,200 veterans every year, about 11 deaths a day. Over the past decade, the veteran firearm suicide rate has increased dramatically: Between 2005 (the earliest year for which veteran suicide data are available) and 2017, the rate increased nearly every year, from 16.2 veteran firearm suicides per 100,000 people in 2005 to 21.5 per 100,000 in 2017—a roughly 33 percent increase. Earlier this year, Everytown veteran advisory council member Mike “Top” Washington wrote about his experience with gun suicide in the Washington Post.
McDonough has long been a gun sense champion. During his time as White House chief of staff, the Obama administration twice (2013 and 2016) signed executive actions to address our nation’s gun violence crisis, and pushed vehemently for the passage of the Machin-Toomey background checks proposal –– legislation to strengthen America’s background check system. McDonough was also chief of staff for the administration’s 2014 suite of executive actions to fulfill “our promises to service members, veterans and their families,” which included a good first step of encouraging firearm safety as part of the plan to address suicide among veterans.
The Biden administration has already begun building the strongest gun safety administration in history. Other gun sense champions appointed by the President-elect include Dr. Vivek Murthy, CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and Ambassador Susan Rice.