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VA Expands Emergency Mental Health Care To Vets With OTH Discharges

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

This week the Department of Veterans Affairs expanded emergency mental health care to vets with other-than-honorable discharges. It's part of an effort to curb the recent increase in veteran suicide.

According to the VA, the rate of suicide among veterans who don't use VA care is increasing at a much higher rate than for those who do.

Dr. Glenn Catalano with the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa says that's why it's critical the agency is now offering emergency mental health care to the over 500,000 vets with OTH discharges -- a group that's not normally eligible for VA benefits.

"Veteran safety is Job One…by expanding the umbrella of care that we can to our veterans, we want to make sure that they're safe and that we can help them get through their transition to the point where they are back to being self-sufficient and taking care of themselves," Catalano said.

Vets with OTH discharges who have a mental health emergency can visit their local VA or call the Veterans Crisis Line to get help. Under the initiative, they may receive care for up to 90 days, which can include inpatient, residential or outpatient care.

During that time, the VA medical center treating the service member and the Veterans Benefits Administration will work to determine if the mental health condition is related to military service, in which case the veteran would be eligible for ongoing coverage.

Vets may be treated using the VA’s tentative eligibility authority, but they may receive a bill for the services if it’s determined down the line that they are ineligible. But the VA says its providers are able to use a broad interpretation of “related to military service.”

Veterans in distress can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 or text 838255.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.