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Veterans in suicidal crisis able to receive free emergency health care

Veterans can go to any VA or non-VA health care facility. Vets don't need to be enrolled in the VA system to get assistance.

IDAHO, USA — 6,146 veterans died by suicide in 2020, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That number is 343 fewer than 2019 but Veterans still die by suicide at higher rates than their civilian counterparts. 

To help those who've served our county, the Department of Veterans Affairs is now giving free emergency health care to veterans in suicidal crisis. 

"I think this is pretty unique, honestly. I think it's a really big step the VA is taking to improve access," Tiffany Foley, the suicide prevention coordinator at the Boise VA Medical Center said. 

The program is effective as of Tuesday. It comes from the Veterans Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care, and Treatment, or COMPACT Act, that was passed in 2020.

The program is for veterans who are experiencing suicidal crisis of acute nature.

"Meaning happening right now in the present moment, and needing emergent care to maintain their safety," Foley said. "What's really neat about this COMPACT Act legislation that passed and is starting today is that it really removes a lot of the barriers to veterans accessing care."

Veterans can go to any VA or non-VA health care facility for free emergency health care. 

"Oftentimes, we hear from veterans who are in, you know, more rural areas, or might have a preference, you know, to seek care at a specific hospital," Foley said. "And so, what's really wonderful about this is veterans can access that care, wherever you know, is best for them, and most convenient for them."

Veterans don't need to be enrolled in the VA system to seek assistance.

"It also includes up to 90 days of follow-up care. Including social work services and counseling and treatment, which is wonderful," Foley said. "And in addition, up to 30 days of residential treatment if they're needing kind of a step down from the emergency level care to residential care, and then on to outpatient. So it's very comprehensive in terms of what's provided and what's going to be covered. It also includes transportation costs, which is pretty wonderful as well, because we know that's also a barrier to folks, the cost of sometimes getting to the hospital."

If you or a veteran you know is in suicidal crisis, you can call the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 9-8-8, and then press 1. 

Veterans can also seek immediate emergency care in the emergency room.

"Going to the emergency room, they don't have to wait, they don't have to call 988 first. If they're in a suicidal crisis, or a loved one realizes that their veteran family member or friend is in a suicidal crisis, they can also help them get to the emergency room - whether that's VA or in the community," Foley said.

Additional information about the new program can be found on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

"The VA, one of the reasons I'm so proud to work here is we really lead the way in a lot of research and really digging deeper into the root causes. And we know that veterans die at a higher rate of suicide than their civilian counterparts, and the VA has really looked at why that is," Foley said. "And one of the things that we know is that veterans who are receiving care, the interventions that have been applied are working."

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