WELLSBORO, Pa (WENY) — Many veterans struggle with mental health issues and some vets aren’t sure what services are available. Not every veteran is enrolled in healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs, but now vets won’t have to worry about going through the VA if they’re dealing with a mental health crisis.
“Any veteran is eligible whether they’re enrolled in the VA health care system or not. We know that most of the veteran and suicidal rates that occur, occur with folks who are not receiving any type of services, or aren’t in the VA healthcare system,” said Director of Veterans’ Services for Tioga County, N.Y., Mike Middaugh.
Congress passed the Veterans COMPACT Act in 2020, but a provision of the law went into effect earlier this week. Veterans who are experiencing a mental health crisis or having suicidal thoughts can now go to a VA’s office or a non-VA medical facility for free emergency health care.
Middaugh believes this is a huge step in the right direction for veterans. He said having more resources available for vets will help bring down barriers.
“If they need to call an ambulance because they’re in crisis, they don’t have to worry about footing that bill. It can be billed out to the VA for that transportation and the emergency care,” said Middaugh.
While this law is meant to help veterans, it also impacts their families. Middaugh said, “For too long, society has stigmatized those who have faced mental health challenges.”
Middaugh also said many vets suffer in silence. For anyone who may be struggling and is afraid to reach out, Middaugh has a message for them.
“Don’t be afraid to ask. This is not about a hand out. So many veterans say ‘I don’t want a hand out.’ It’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up. I can’t walk your journey for you but I can walk it with you. You don’t have to walk it alone,” he said.
If you’re a veteran in crisis or anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 9-8-8. The Lifeline has staff available to help people 24 hours a day.