COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Military veterans at immediate risk of suicide will no longer have to depend solely on Veterans Affairs facilities to seek emergency health care.
A new VA program that started Tuesday allows veterans in "suicidal crisis" to also receive help at civilian hospitals, emergency rooms or other mental health facilities.
According to a VA release issued last week, the additional care includes inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days and outpatient care for up to 90 days.
Veterans do not need to be enrolled in the VA system to use this benefit.
The agency says that the new program will increase access to acute suicide care for up to 9 million veterans who are not currently enrolled in VA.
Ben Kremer, manager of suicide prevention for the VA's eastern Colorado region, defines "suicidal crisis."
"It could be someone who has either already acted on something, is about to act on something, or has a history to think we need to treat this as an emergency situation," he explains.
Kremer says that the program allows the agency to take a more active role in suicide prevention among veterans, by lessening confusion, frustration and stress about whether they qualify and how much the program will cost them.
VA uses calls to suicide prevention hotlines and emergency room visits to estimate how many veterans may be considered in suicidal crisis; Kremer says that the region had nearly 4,000 hotline calls alone last year -- ranking third nationally.
"And around a fifth of those calls require a welfare check (by first responders)," he reveals. "So that's where veterans in suicidal crisis are most likely to come from."
Bob McLaughlin, executive director of the Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center, in Colorado Springs, says that the program is another option in what's already a good variety of care choices available.
"Unfortunately, in many cases, if care is hard to get, veterans will spiral," he says. "So, our motto here at Mt. Carmel is to make it easy, to work with VA and to be good partners. It'll save lives."
The program is the latest step in a series of initiatives by VA and the Biden Administration to prioritize the prevention of suicide among veterans.
An annual VA report on the subject released last year revealed that suicides decreased in 2020 for the second straight year, to the fewest since 2006; meanwhile, El Paso recorded a decline of nearly 10% in veteran suicides.
"We know that more and more people are finding themselves in crisis," Kremer says. "And they're utilizing at least one aspect of crisis support. The stigma of talking about suicide seems to be lessening, as well -- and that certainly helps when people are willing to talk about it and ask hard questions."
For more information, visit: https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/includes/viewPDF.cfm?id=5852.