Federal policy expects Kentucky veterans to be saved through mental health care News

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Veterans and service members who call 988 can press 1 to get specific crisis help from the Veterans Crisis Line.

Kentucky Army veteran Jeremy Harrell said that once a veteran decides to commit suicide, “every minute counts.”

That’s why he believes a new federal policy aimed at reducing veteran suicides through free emergency mental health care will be the “de facto savior” for the state, which is home to about 370,000 veterans. It is unclear how many of these are not enrolled in the VA health care system. Up to 9 million people can benefit nationwide.

Eligibility requirements dictate that a person can enroll in Veteran’s Association health care if they have served 24 consecutive months or the entire period of active duty. Exceptions to that include those who were discharged because active duty caused or aggravated the disability and those who served before Sept. 7, 1980. These requirements can sometimes prevent people from getting the care they need, Harrell said.

The new federal policy went into effect on January 17. Through it, veterans—whether VA-enrolled or otherwise—can go to any health care facility—VA and non-VA—for a free mental health emergency. Care in the event of a suicidal crisis.

This free emergency care includes 30 days of inpatient or residential care and outpatient care for up to 90 days, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This is really a big step in the right direction when it comes to veteran suicide,” said Harrell, who founded the Veteran’s Club, which is based in the Louisville area and advocates for mental health through a variety of organizations.

He said the new arrival makes his job as a defender easier. He always recommends his suicide prevention lifeline, 988, to people who call on him in crisis. But in the past he also had to ask a series of eligibility questions to find out how to help the person. This takes valuable time.

“The clock is ticking,” Harel said. “What we do know is that when a person makes the decision, especially in the veteran community, to take their own life… every minute counts.”

Now, help is simpler. Call or text 988. Or, as he puts it, “find your way to the nearest emergency room.”

In 2020, there were 119 veteran suicides in Kentucky, up from 100 in 2019, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Data for 2021 and 2022 are not yet available. Harrell said he is aware of six Kentucky veterans who died by suicide since November.

“It is heartbreaking to know how many lives we may have lost due to bureaucracy,” he said.

Who is eligible?

Eligibility criteria for this program, according to the VA:

• Veterans who have been discharged or discharged from active duty after more than 24 months of active duty under circumstances other than honor.

• Former members of the Armed Forces, including Reserve Service personnel, who served more than 100 days under combat leave or in support of an emergency operation either directly or by operating an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle from another location were discharged under non-dignified conditions.

• Former members of the armed forces who have been subjected to physical assault of a sexual nature, beating of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment while serving in the armed forces

Are there enough service providers? Kentucky has a shortage of mental health care providers, according to data from the Department of Health Resources and Services. In fact, 2022 data from the Rural Health Information Hub showed that every Kentucky county is a mental health shortage area.

He said this is a “major concern” for Harrell, citing burnout from the pandemic as the culprit and the need for more social workers.

He said the private entities also need to be trained in military language so they can better communicate with the veterans who come.

But for now: “My hope is that[the hospital staff]can, if nothing else, help stabilize the individual, put their eyes on the individual, and at least try to support them, because that’s a big part of it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *