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Nearly 50,000 veterans used free emergency suicide prevention in first year of program, VA says

Former Marine helping vets through art
Retired Marine helping veterans struggling with mental health through art therapy 06:41

Nearly 50,000 veterans received free emergency suicide prevention care in 2023, the first year of the program, the Department of Veterans Affairs will announce on Wednesday. 

In January 2023, the Department of Veterans Affairs instituted a new policy allowing eligible veterans and certain former service members in acute suicidal crisis to go to any VA or non-VA health care facility to receive emergency care at no cost. The policy covers emergency room care, inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days, and outpatient care for up to 90 days.

The VA says 49,714 veterans have taken advantage of the no-cost emergency care policy since it was implemented exactly one year ago, amounting to more than $64 million in saved health care costs.

"There is nothing more important to VA than preventing veteran suicide — and this expansion of no-cost care has likely saved thousands of lives this year," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. "We want all veterans to know they can get the care they need, when they need it, no matter where they are."

2021 New York City Veterans Day Parade
Members of the SAR Flag Corp. take part in the 2021 New York City Veterans Day Parade on November 11, 2021 in New York City. Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

A 2021 Brown University study estimated that more than 30,000 veterans of post-9/11 conflicts have died by suicide, more than four times the 7,057 U.S. military personnel killed at the time in those conflicts. 

And the veteran suicide rate has outpaced the rate of the general U.S. public. A 2023 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that in 2021, the suicide rate for veterans was 71.8% higher than non-veterans when adjusted for age and sex differences.

That same report found that 6,392 veterans died by suicide in 2021, an average of more than 17 veterans taking their lives every day.

In November 2021, the Biden administration released a new national strategy to reduce military and veteran suicide, calling it a "public health and national security crisis."

"I've often said that we have only one truly sacred obligation as Americans—to prepare and properly equip our women and men in uniform when we send them into harm's way, and to care for them and their families when they return," President Biden wrote in the introduction to the strategy document. "Yet for too many who are serving or have served, we are falling short."

The strategy included goals of enhancing crisis care and increasing access to high quality mental health care.

Veterans, including those not enrolled in the VA, can now to go any VA or non-VA emergency room for free emergent suicidal care. The policy also covers veterans who experienced sexual trauma while in uniform. It also covers some people who don't meet the technical requirements to be considered a veteran, like people who were released from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable.

Transportation costs are also covered by the VA. Any eligible veteran who does receive a bill can call the VA customer service center at 877-881-7618 to resolve the issue. 

In addition to the no-cost emergency care policy implemented last year, the VA has taken steps to improve suicide prevention support. In 2022, it launched a new Veterans Crisis Line number – Dial 988 then press 1.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, you can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline here.

For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email

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