Veterans advocate hopes new VA mental health coverage will save lives

Veterans PTSD
Posted at 11:10 PM, Jan 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-20 23:11:07-05

More veterans have died by suicide than by combat and the numbers aren't even close. A Brown University study in 2021 found there were more than four times as many veteran suicides since 9/11 as combat deaths.

In the last couple of years, the numbers have improved. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says 6,001 veterans died by suicide. In 2018, that number rocketed up to 6,796. Since 2018, though, that rate has been falling rapidly. In 2020, 6,146 veterans died by suicide.

"Just because someone leaves the battlefield, doesn't necessarily mean the battlefield leaves them," said Jeremy Harrell, an Army veteran and the founder of Veterans Club, Inc.

Harrell said he struggled with his mental health after coming home, but worked through those issues. Now, his organization helps other veterans and first responders find peace.

"I decided it would be a disservice to my fellow brothers and sisters in arms if I didn't share the knowledge, if I didn't help those who were coming after me," he said.

Harrell said a move by the Department of Veterans Affairs will save a lot of lives. As of January 17, any veteran who's having a suicidal crisis, whether they're enrolled in the VA system or not, can go to any VA or non-VA healthcare facility for emergency healthcare at no cost. The VA says they'll also cover inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days and outpatient care for up to 90 days. Harrell said a lot of veterans hesitate to get help because they're not sure if it will be covered.

"All that goes out the window and now these veterans can go and not worry about that. They can go wherever they need to go," Harrell said. "It's going to break down those barriers that some men and women who have served that get in the way of getting help,"

Harrell said he's known of six veterans recently who died by suicide. He hopes this move can keep driving those suicide rates as low as possible.

"I just think about the six lives of the folks that I knew personally and go, how many of those lives would have been saved if they knew that they could just go and get help and there were no financial repercussions or any of that," Harrell said. "We all deserve an opportunity to have a peaceful, decent life without the haunting memories of what we've seen and the traumatic events that we've experienced,"

Anyone experiencing a suicidal crisis can now call a lifeline anytime at 9-8-8. Veterans who dial that lifeline can also press 1 to talk to someone who's experienced with veterans' issues.