Veterans in Crisis Eligible for Free Emergency Care

Veterans in Crisis Eligible for Free Emergency Care

Photo by: U.S. Army/Spc. David N. Beckstrom

Veterans in acute suicidal crisis can receive care at any emergency health care facility at no cost under a new Department of Veterans Affairs policy.

Effective Jan. 17, the new policy provides veterans access to acute care, including inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days and outpatient care for up to 90 days, according to a news release from the VA. Veterans do not need to be enrolled in the VA system to use this benefit. 

There are approximately 16.5 million veterans in the U.S., according to U.S. Census data, and they are disproportionately affected by suicide compared to the U.S. population. 

“Veterans bear a disproportionate but preventable burden,” Christopher Jones, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, testified before a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee. “At this moment in history, it is imperative to address the challenges veterans face head-on and provide supports to increase hope and resilience at the individual, family and community level.” 

For the up to 9 million veterans who are not currently enrolled in the VA system, this new benefit will increase their access to care when they need it most, the VA said in its news release.

Among service members who separated from active military service in 2019, Army veterans experienced the second highest suicide rate during the 12 months after leaving the military, according to the VA’s 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report. 

Though veterans are particularly affected by suicide, suicide deaths among veterans are decreasing, according to the VA report. 

“There were 343 fewer Veterans who died from suicide in 2020 than in 2019, and 2020 had the lowest number of Veteran suicides since 2006,” according to the report. “From 2001 through 2018, the number of Veteran suicides increased on average by 47 deaths per year. From 2019 to 2020, there were consecutive reductions, of 307 and 343 suicides, respectively, an unprecedented decrease since 2001.” 

The new VA policy ensures that veterans will have access to the care they need, said Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough. 

“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. “This expansion of care will save veterans’ lives, and there’s nothing more important than that.”