VA to expand mental health care to former service members in need

Those in crisis with other-than-honorable discharges to be eligible for care

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Department of Veterans Affairs intends to expand urgent mental health care to former service members with other-than-honorable discharges, who are in mental health distress and may be at risk for suicide or other adverse behaviors -- a plan that could be finalized in a few months.

That announcement came from VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin while he testified yesterday in a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

“The president and I have made it clear that suicide prevention is one or our top priorities," said Shulkin. “We know the rate of death by suicide among veterans who do not use VA care is increasing at a greater rate than veterans who use VA care. This is a national emergency that requires bold action. We must and we will do all that we can to help former service members who may be at risk. When we say even one veteran suicide is one too many, we mean it.”

There are more than 500,000 former service members with other-than-honorable discharges, and this proposal would allow them to seek treatment at a VA emergency department, Vet Center or contact the Veterans Crisis Line.

“Our goal is simple: to save lives,” Shulkin said. “Veterans who are in crisis should receive help immediately. Far too many veterans have fallen victim to suicide, roughly 20 every day. Far too many families are left behind asking themselves what more could have been done. The time for action is now.”

The plan is expected to be finalized in early summer, but before that's done, Shulkin will meet with Congress, Veterans Service Organizations and Department of Defense officials to determine the best way forward to get these former service members the care they need.

Veterans in crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255.

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