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All military veterans experiencing suicide crises are now eligible for free emergency medical care. Veterans need not be enrolled in VA programs to receive care.

Additionally, vets do not have to go to a VA clinic for suicide mental health treatment. The new program to support veterans includes private facilities.

The VA will announce the new plan on Friday. In addition to emergency treatment, vets can receive 30 days of inpatient care, and up to 90 days of outpatient care.

This is a boon for Black veterans especially, who comprise 12% of all military veterans. Since September 11, 2001, over 1 in 3 service members has been Black or Hispanic.

Additionally, Black vets face a harsh reality. Black military members are less likely to become officers, and as such, are more likely to face front-line combat — and injury or death.

New program seeks to save veteran lives

Meanwhile, Black men and woman also face higher rates of suicide crises. In 2021, the Center for Disease Control noted a 5% increase in suicides among Black men and women.

Black people are also less likely to receive mental health treatment. Only 25% of Black men and women seek mental health care compared to 40% of Whites.

Meanwhile, Black vets will now have greater access to mental health care.

“This expansion of care will save Veterans’ lives, and there’s nothing more important than that,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said.

In 2020, the VA reported that over 6000 veterans died by suicide.  While that number is lower than in 2019, addressing the veteran suicide crisis is a top priority for the VA.

Mental health a major concern

According Cliff Smith, the director of analytics, innovation and collaboration within VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, 5000 veterans seek hospitalization each month for mental health crises. However, many vets avoid seeking treatment due to financial constraints.

The new program to support veterans in suicide crisis seeks to alleviate that concern. According to Smith, “We are addressing the anxiety associated with a bill or cost.”

In a statement, McDonough reiterated that the program will provide access for all former military service members. “Veterans in suicide 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.” 

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...