Veterans Affair to offer free emergency medical care to veterans experiencing mental health crisis

Jamiese Price Image
Monday, January 16, 2023
VA to offer free medical services for veterans in mental health crisis
The Department of Veterans of Affairs is launching a new policy that will help address mental health emergencies among veterans.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Dennis Horne served in the United States Army for eight years including combat in the Persian Gulf War. The impact of his time in the military was felt immediately, but it took Horne years to understand exactly what he was experiencing.

" I knew there was some, I'll just call it residual from-- basic training and being in the military and then being deployed," he said.

Horne thought his age was also a factor. He was 20 years old after returning home from war.

"I'm young. So, I think this is just a part of growing up with the things that I was experiencing mentally," he added.

But it was much more. Horne was experiencing dreams and nightmares. He said it was PTSD.

"It was the help of the psychiatrists and therapists who helped me to put those pieces together and to make the connections," Horne said. "So, I was like, wow, okay, that's why I'm acting this way. That's why I'm feeling this way. I'll admit there were times there were thoughts of suicide."

At that moment he called the Veterans Crisis Hotline.

"I can remember being out on vacation with my family. And I just had to pull away and just kind of steal away. And then I thought about the hotline and just being able to have them as a resource and talk to them," Horne reflected. "It just felt like a huge sense of relief, because I didn't know I had that resource to reach out to."

According to the VA, the suicide rate for Veterans in 2020 was 57.3 percent higher than those who never served in the military. Now the Department of Veterans of Affairs is launching a new policy that will help address mental health emergencies among veterans.

Starting Tuesday, January 17th, veterans who are experiencing a suicidal crisis will be eligible for free emergency medical care at any VA or private facility.

" I'm so grateful that they are beginning to see the needs of these mental health services for the veterans,' said Army Veteran Shirley Monroe, who served seven years in the military.

The VA already provides emergency suicide care, but under this policy, veterans aren't required to pay for care or a co-pay.

The care includes:

  • 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.

Monroe, who worked in the mental health field after serving in the military, knows firsthand how beneficial this resource could be for veterans in crisis.

"A lot of people don't understand there is trauma. When you have to be away from your family, there's a trauma for the family," she said. "It is very hard. The military is not an easy life for a lot of people. So those services are needed."

This new policy is considered a key effort of the VA's 10-year national strategy for preventing veteran suicide.

"Mental Health, period, has definitely been taboo for years. I think this generation, we're now moving into it being like, this is what we need. And it's okay," Horne added.

Veterans Affairs has made it more user-friendly to access the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 and pressing 1 to connect with crisis support 24/7