NORFOLK, Va. — Any of the nation's 18 million military veterans who find themselves in an acute suicidal crisis will be able to access emergency health care at any medical facility for free, starting Tuesday.
The new policy guarantees no-cost emergency care for all vets, at both Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers and private healthcare facilities, including inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days and outpatient care for up to 90 days.
Veterans do not need to be enrolled in the VA system to use this benefit.
A total of 6,146 veterans died by suicide in 2020, according to the VA's 2022 National Veterans Suicide Prevention Annual Report released last September.
That represents a decrease in self-inflicted veterans' deaths of 9.7% from 2018 to 2020. It's the lowest it's been since 2006.
VA leaders have said that one veteran's suicide is one too many.
"Suicide prevention is our top clinical priority, bar none," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said last July to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization.
He continued: "And, together with the VFW, we're going to keep saving vets' lives and help them not only survive but to thrive."
Dennis Horne, who served in the Army for eight years, including combat in the Persian Gulf War, took years to understand exactly what he was experiencing.
"The biggest thing was the dreams, the nightmares," he said in an interview with WTVD-TV.
Horne continued: "And hey, I'll admit there were times of thoughts of suicide."
Army Veteran Shirley Monroe worked in the mental health field after serving in the military. She told WTVD she knows firsthand how beneficial this new resource could be for veterans in crisis.
"I'm so grateful that they are beginning to see the needs of these mental health services for the veterans," she said. "It is very hard. As you know, the military is not an easy life for a lot of people, so those services are needed."
This effort is a key part of the VA’s 10-year National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide and the White House's plan for Reducing Military and Veteran Suicide.
The VA already provides emergency suicide care, but under the new policy, veterans aren't required to pay for care or a co-pay.
The care includes:
- Pay or reimbursement for treatment of eligible individuals' emergency suicide care, transportation costs, and follow-up care at a VA or non-VA facility for up to 30 days of inpatient care and 90 days of outpatient care.
- Make appropriate referrals for care following the period of emergency suicide care.
- Determine eligibility for other VA services and benefits.
- Refer eligible individuals for appropriate VA programs and benefits following the period of emergency suicide care.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 9-8-8 to connect with crisis support 24/7.