Veterans in a mental health crisis will now be able to access free mental health care from the Department of Veterans of Affairs, regardless of whether or not they are enrolled in VA benefits. Starting Tuesday, Jan. 17, veterans will be able to access this emergency suicide care at both VA and non-VA healthcare facilities.
The VA is also expanding eligibility for the free care. The VA estimates this will increase care to as many as nine million veterans who aren’t signed up for VA benefits. Under the new policy, veterans can receive up to 90 days of outpatient care, and inpatient and residential care for up to 30 days.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the policy on Friday, Jan. 13.
“Veterans in suicidal crisis can now receive the free, world-class emergency health care they deserve — no matter where they need it, when they need it, or whether they’re enrolled in VA care,” McDonough said in a statement on the policy. “This expansion of care will save veterans’ lives, and there’s nothing more important than that.”
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The department already offers emergency suicide care, but alongside expanded eligibility, the new policy removes any copays or fees tied to the service. The VA will also pay for or reimburse any fees including transportation to non-VA facilities.
The new VA policy is part of a wider effort to help veterans with mental health and to prevent suicides. In 2022 the government launched the new, shorter 988 number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and the Veterans Crisis Line (the longer 10-digit version still works). Veterans and active-duty military members can dial 988, then press 1 to be connected to therapists and counselors trained to deal with military and veteran-specific topics. In the event that people need to be dispatched to help, it would be trained mental health providers instead of police.
The VA and the Department of the Navy also began distributing free gun locks in October to help prevent suicides. Those are available at any VA facility, as well Marine Corps Community Services spaces and Fleet and Family Support Centers. The locks also have information to connect service members and veterans with the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Veterans Crisis Line.
More than 6,000 veterans died by suicide in 2020, according to the VA’s own records. The military has also been dealing with low morale and a heavy mental health burden. The Navy has seen multiple suicides at a maintenance center in recent months as well as suicide about the USS George Washington. The Army is also dealing with suicides among active-duty soldiers, with one of its highest rates in 2020.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling or texting 988 and you’ll be connected to trained counselors.
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