Veterans in crisis now eligible for free care nationwide

Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 5:51 PM CST
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – Starting Tuesday, all United States veterans facing a suicidal crisis can access free care at any VA or private facility.

This new benefit includes 30 free inpatient days and 90 free residential days. The veteran will not need to pay co-pays or other fees.

Dr. Stephen Lansing is a Rochester-based psychologist and a Vietnam veteran. He specializes in treating veterans diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He said veterans struggling with suicidal thoughts face what he calls the “three Hs.”

“The three hs: hopeless, helpless and hapless. helpless, there’s nothing I can do about it,” Dr. Lansing said. “There’s no hope, it’s never going to get any better, and look at these things that happened to me. And you take someone who’s been in combat, the things you see and experience, the normal world can’t imagine.”

The VA reported that 6,146 veterans died by suicide in 2020.

Lansing is also diagnosed with PTSD and he said the stigma needs to end.

“They are saying there’s 22 a day,” Lansing said. “Nineteen never get help. If we don’t deal with the stigma, saying what you have is no different than diabetes, blood pressure, any of those things in between arthritis. PTSD is a medical condition.”

According to the VA, the new benefit means more than 18 million veterans could get more access to care.

“A lot of veterans, trying to find someone who they can share their thoughts with can be a difficult thing to do,” veteran Michael Nelson said. “Having this new program out there now opens more doors for veterans to seek the care that they may need.”

Lansing said the new benefit is a good start, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

“There’s never enough being done,” he said. “There’s still a disconnect from the government and the legislative process and things like that. Hopefully, this is going to get more people in the door, get people the help they need.”

He also said part of the problem is the VA and private mental health services are overwhelmed due to staffing shortages.

He said in his practice, he is always busy, more than 60% of his clients are veterans.

“We need to figure out how to fix the staffing issues,” he said. “Part of it is that they need to be paid more, as they should.”

The new policy allows 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.

The VA also recently established an option within the 988-suicide prevention line. Veterans can choose option “1″ when they dial 988 and be routed to a specific crisis counselor.

According to the VA, it’s also started firearm safety outreach, in addition to other suicide prevention campaigns.