Veterans who are in a suicidal crisis can now seek emergency care at any medical facility at no cost to them.
Starting Tuesday, veterans will have free access to inpatient care or crisis residential care for up to 30 days and outpatient care for up to 90 days, the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a press release last week.
The VA says the program will lift the burden of expensive treatment costs for veterans and provide acute suicide care access for up to 9 million veterans who are not enrolled with the federal department.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement the “expansion of care will save lives.”
“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.
Regardless of VA enrollment status, veterans who were discharged from active duty after more than 24 months and who were not dishonorably discharged are eligible for the program.
Also eligible are those who served more than 100 days in a combat operation or those who were victims of a physical or sexual assault in the military.
Suicide prevention is considered the VA’s highest priority. The suicide rate for U.S. veterans is much higher than the rest of the adult population, although the number of veterans suicides has begun to decline in the past two years.
The latest VA report released in September said there were 6,146 veteran suicides in 2020, down 343 from 2019.
That also marked the fewest suicide deaths for veterans in any year since 2006, according to the VA’s data.
Under the new rule in effect Tuesday, the VA will cover the entire costs of emergency care for a veteran in suicide crisis, including transportation services such as an ambulance ride.
The VA will also provide appropriate referrals for veterans after the emergency care period.
Authority for the VA to implement the expanded health care services was included in a 2020 law called the Compact Act, sponsored by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.).
“HUGE NEWS: beginning today, veterans can receive no-cost emergency mental health care at VA or non-VA healthcare facilities thanks to my COMPACT Act,” Takano wrote on Twitter.
In November 2021, the Biden administration unveiled a new strategy aimed at boosting mental health resources for veterans, including enhancing crisis care facilities and increasing access to mental health resources.
The VA also launched a 10-year strategy on preventing veteran suicides in 2018 to create a larger framework on addressing the crisis.