(COLORADO SPRINGS) — The Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced a new policy to combat the veteran suicide crisis, which went into effect on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Veterans in suicidal crisis are now eligible for free emergency mental health care.

With the new policy, the VA said more than 18 million US veterans are eligible for care, including the 9 million veterans that are currently not enrolled with the VA.

In 2020, there were 6,146 veteran suicide deaths, which was 343 fewer than in 2019. However, also in 2020, the veteran suicide rate was 31.7 per 100,000, nearly twice the rate of non-veteran US adults (16.1 per 100,000), according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

According to a press release, veterans in crisis can now walk in to any VA or non-VA health care facility for free emergency health care.

“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 finalized policy paves the way for the 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.