Veterans in mental health crisis can now get free emergency care at any facility

In Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, and Polk counties alone, more than 100,000 veterans call central Florida home. As of Tuesday, those in acute suicidal crisis can now go to any VA or non-VA healthcare facility for emergency healthcare at no cost.

The policy change includes 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. The move was announced by the Department of Veterans Affairs on Jan. 13.

VA officials said in an announcement that this expansion of care would help prevent veteran suicide by "guaranteeing no cost, world-class care to Veterans in times of crisis. It will also increase access to acute suicide care for up to 9 million Veterans who are not currently enrolled in VA."

The department said this effort is a key part of VA’s 10-year National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide and the Biden-Harris administration’s plan for Reducing Military and Veteran Suicide.

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"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," said VA Secretary for Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough. "This expansion of care will save Veterans’ lives, and there’s nothing more important than that."

The final policy, which takes effect on Jan. 17, will allow VA to:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Eligible individuals, regardless of VA enrollment status, are:

  • Veterans who were discharged or released from active duty after more than 24 months of active service under conditions other than dishonorable.
  • Former members of the armed forces, including reserve service members, 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.
  • Former members of the armed forces who were the victim of a physical assault of a sexual nature, a battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment while serving in the armed forces.

The VA underscored that over the past year, it has announced or continued several additional efforts to end veteran suicide, "including establishing 988 (then press 1) as a way for veterans to quickly connect with caring, qualified crisis support 24/7; proposing a new rule that would reduce or eliminate co-payments for veterans at risk of suicide; conducting an ongoing public outreach effort on firearm suicide prevention and lethal means safety; and leveraging a national veteran suicide prevention awareness campaign, "Don’t Wait. Reach Out."