Free emergency mental health care for veterans at any hospital after VA rule change
Starting Tuesday and going forward, for the first time, military veterans experiencing a mental health crisis need only go to the nearest hospital to receive free emergency services.
“This VA policy change is great news. By eliminating unnecessary barriers to access, we also take a big step toward destigmatizing mental health in the veterans’ community,” U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton said Tuesday.
As of Jan. 17, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, any eligible veteran, whether enrolled in the VA healthcare system or not, that is in an “acute suicidal crisis” can go to a VA or non-VA facility and receive up to a month of inpatient care or three months of outpatient care without cost.
Previously veterans needed to go to a VA facility in order to receive free or low cost care for mental health emergencies. For some veterans, that could mean travelling dozens or hundreds of miles from home for care while experiencing an emergency.
“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,” Secretary for Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said last week. “This expansion of care will save veterans’ lives, and there’s nothing more important than that.”
According to figures provided by the VA, at least 17 veterans take their own lives every day, a rate far higher than seen among their civilian peers. Some studies suggest the rate could be more than twice that, with many suicides going unreported as such.
For veterans like Moulton, a Marine who has been very open about his own struggles with service connected post traumatic stress disorder, the new rules bring about an entirely necessary change.
“Even one suicide in this community is too many, so it is unthinkable that a veteran would be charged out of pocket for seeking help during a mental health crisis,” he told the Herald through a spokesperson. “It’s critical that mental health finally be treated like any other form of healthcare, so that every veteran knows that it is okay to get help – and that they can afford it.”
According to the VA, the new rule will “provide, pay for, or reimburse 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.”
Eligible veterans must have been discharged or released from active duty after more than 24 months of active service under conditions other than dishonorable.
Reserve and National Guard veterans who served more than 100 days “under a combat exclusion or in support of a contingency operation either directly or by operating an unmanned aerial vehicle from another location who were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable” would also qualify.
Veterans who were the victims of sexual assault while in the service are covered regardless of service time or conditions.
The Biden-Harris administration has made preventing veteran suicide a top priority, according to the VA, but Moulton says there is more that can be done.
“Now we have to continue to break down the other barriers that contribute to the mental health crisis among veterans and active duty service members. One of these barriers is the lack of trained mental health care providers for all of the veterans who need it,” he said. “We need more trained providers in the system who can address the unique needs of this community. I’m working on this as part of my role on the House Armed Services Committee.”
Veterans in a mental health crisis — or anyone so confronted — can quickly reach a mental health professional by calling 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Upon calling veterans will be instructed to press “1” to be connected to the veteran’s crisis line.