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Vets in suicidal crisis to receive free emergency care anywhere they seek it- maybe

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Benjamin Faust
Roughly one out of every four deaths by suicide in Lane County is a veteran or a military service member, according to Suicide Prevention data from LCPH.

A new policy took effect nationwide Thursday, allowing veterans in suicidal crisis to go to any health care facility for emergency treatment—for free. But there's some concern over how Oregon vets can get emergency care benefits in the midst of a mental health workforce shortage.

Roger Brubaker is Suicide Prevention Coordinator with Lane County Public Health. He understands the problem. “Roughly one out of every four deaths by suicide in Lane County is a veteran or a military service member.”

The new expansion of care allows veterans in a mental health crisis to receive free emergency services at any VA or non-VA health care facility. The benefits include inpatient or crisis residential care and as well as outpatient care.

Brubaker said on the front on it, the new policy sounds good. “But here- specifically in Oregon- it’s meeting up with a current behavioral workforce shortage, that I’m just not really sure how it’s going to overcome in the near term.”

Veterans don’t have to be enrolled in the VA Healthcare System to use the new benefit. But Brubaker said at least at the VA, vets have priority. “The way our private/public health care system is set up, veterans would be in line with everyone else there for care,” he said. And, given the dearth of mental and behavioral health professionals right now—emergency crisis care for anyone will be at a premium.

Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts should dial 988 to connect with support.

Those eligible under the new suicide prevention policy include veterans and reserve service members discharged under conditions other than dishonorable and former members of the armed forces who were victims of sexual assault or harassment while serving.

Brubaker said Lane County veterans in crisis who don’t wish to be treated through VA health services can go to Hourglass Community Crisis Center, an emergency department diversion program. which offers a low-stimulation and peaceful environment for individuals- so they are able to relax and focus on more planful and pro-social activity, then connect back to the appropriate community services either the same day, or by the following one.

The Johnson Wing at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center and behavioral health inpatient Services at PeaceHealth University District are also recommended for adults in acute suicidal crisis, he said.

According to a release from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, preventing Veteran suicide is VA’s top clinical priority and a top priority of the Biden-Harris Administration. This effort is a key part of VA’s 10-year National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide and the Biden-Harris administration’s plan for Reducing Military and Veteran Suicide.  

In September, VA released the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, which showed that Veteran suicides decreased in 2020 for the second year in a row, and that fewer Veterans died by suicide in 2020 than in any year since 2006.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.