Millions of U.S. veterans are now eligible for free suicide crisis treatment at any health care facility, officials said.
The new policy, effective Jan. 17, provides veterans experiencing an “acute suicidal crisis” with no cost inpatient care for up to 30 days, as well as outpatient care for up to 90 days, according to a statement from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The roughly 9 million veterans not currently enrolled in the VA system will also be eligible for this benefit, the agency stated.
“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 in the statement. “This expansion of care will save Veterans’ lives, and there’s nothing more important than that.”
People eligible for this benefit include veterans who served more than 24 months of active service and were not dishonorably discharged and former armed service members who served for over 100 days “under a combat exclusion,” the agency said.
Former armed service members who experienced sexual abuse, a group at high risk for suicide, are also entitled to the benefit.
Preventing veteran suicides, thousands of which happen every year, is a top priority, according to the statement.
There were 6,146 veteran suicides in 2020, the latest year with available data, marking a slight decrease from 2019, according to the agency. In 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for veterans under the age of 45.
The new benefit is part of the VA’s 10-year plan to protect veterans, a group that is 1.5 times more prone to die by suicide than the general population, according to the American Psychological Association.
One study found that “intense psychological suffering and pain” is the top reason armed service members die by suicide, according to the the Military Suicide Research Consortium.
Stress, chronic pain and access to guns in addition to brain injuries, which are often the result of repeated exposure to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), also contribute to the high rates of suicide among veterans, according to Boston University research.
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