Veterans to receive free emergency mental health care beginning Jan. 17
Stars and Stripes January 13, 2023
WASHINGTON — Veterans struggling with suicidal thoughts will be able to receive free emergency mental health care starting Tuesday at any Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility or outside provider.
The new policy will apply to all veterans in mental health crisis, even if they’re among the estimated 9 million former service members who are not using their VA benefits, according to the VA. The effort is part of the department’s 10-year strategy to reduce suicide by veterans, who are at a significantly higher suicide risk than the general population.
“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,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement on Friday. “This expansion of care will save veterans’ lives, and there’s nothing more important than that.”
There were more than 6,100 veteran suicides in 2020, according to the latest VA data. An estimated 17 veterans die by suicide every day.
The free treatment will include emergency suicide care, inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days and outpatient care for up to 90 days. The VA will also either cover or reimburse transportation costs, appointment fees and other related expenses.
Eligible veterans must have left active duty after more than 2 years of service under any separation status except a dishonorable discharge. Other eligibility is provided for former troops who served 100 days under a combat exclusion, worked with drones for more than 100 days and veterans who were victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said Friday that he was thrilled the VA will begin implementing an idea that he first proposed in a bill in 2020. The measure became the foundation on which the new VA policy is based.
“This new benefit removes cost from the equation when veterans are at imminent risk of self-harm and allows them to access lifesaving care when they need it most, regardless of whether the veteran has ever enrolled in or used VA health care benefits,” Takano said in a statement. “But there is more work to do. As we embark on a new year and a new Congress, I will continue to prioritize meaningful solutions to help save veterans’ lives.”
The VA has embarked on several initiatives over the past year to help prevent veteran suicide, including a Veteran Crisis Hotline that can be contacted through 988 or at 1-800-273-8255.