VA expands suicide services for millions of veterans: ‘This is a game changer’

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 8:59 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The US. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that nine million veterans now have access to free emergency medical health care nationally.

The Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care, and Treatment (COMPACT) Act is a federal program ensuring free emergency health care for honorably discharged veterans experiencing a suicide crisis.

The COMPACT Act was brought into law in Dec. of 2020 and fully implemented in Jan. of this year. Now in full effect, the program has expanded the VA’s service to veterans previously ineligible for their care.

VA officials in South Carolina are encouraging attendance, if eligible.

“This is opening up care to literally hundreds and thousands of people in the state of South Carolina. We want to make sure that you know that you are welcome. You come on in. We will take care of you,” said Dr. Peter Warren, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia.

Dr. Warren told WIS that veterans have already taken advantage of the COMPACT Act in Columbia. He’s counted at least 100 patients since the program launched nationally on Jan. 17.

“Anything we can do to get more veterans into the front door is a really big deal. That’s a game-changer. And when it comes to serving our nation’s veterans, the VA, that’s what we do,” continued Dr. Warren.

Columbia’s VA Healthcare System said they provide service to 90,000 veterans across the state. With the COMPACT Act, officials estimate that 160,000 regional veterans may be eligible for free emergency care.

In order to qualify, veterans must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Serve at least 24 months of active duty with a character discharge other than dishonorable.
  • Serve more than 100 days of combat or contingency operations and discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
  • Experience military sexual trauma including physical assault and harassment.

“The important thing is, if someone is struggling, they need care. They need to get in. And so, what we’ve done is open up the eligibility as much as we can. And someone who is in this kind of crisis, they don’t have to worry about a bill. They don’t have to worry about co-pay. That’s the last thing we want stopping someone who is considering suicide from seeking help,” said Dr. Warren.

The COMPACT Act also covers inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days, and outpatient care for up to 90 days, including social work.

To see if your military service qualifies for service under the COMPACT act, click here.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please seek immediate help through the avenues below:

Veterans Crisis Line: Dial 988 and press 1

Veterans Crisis Text Line: Text 838255

Online chat:

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