SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Veterans experiencing a mental health crisis should immediately seek care at the nearest emergency department or VA medical center and let staff know they are a veteran because recent legislation has opened doors for many vets who are not currently enrolled in the VA system to use non-VA and VA facilities for free when in suicidal crisis.

The Suicide Prevention Manager at Overton Brooks Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Ricarter Broomes, is thrilled about the new expansion of care.

“This piece of legislation is a wonderful step in the right direction. The VA will pay for eligible veterans to receive care when they need it and where they need it,” Broomes tells KTAL NBC 6 News. “And I think that is simply wonderful.”

As of January 17, 2023, Section 201 of the Veterans Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care, and Treatment Act of 2020, also known as the COMPACT Act, was expanded to include more of the nation’s veterans by allowing the VA to:

  • Either provide, pay for or reimburse eligible veterans for the treatment of emergency suicide care, their transportation costs, and needed follow-up care at either VA or non-VA facilities for up to 30 days of inpatient care and 90 days of outpatient care
  • Appropriately refer veterans for care after emergency suicide care has ended
  • Help determine whether veterans are eligible for other services and benefits at the VA
  • Refer veterans who are eligible for VA programs and benefits after emergency suicide care has ended

Letitia Sharp is the Chief of the Business Office at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center, and she says it’s really disheartening to read about veterans who have committed suicide. Both she and Broomes believe the new legislation will be a massive help for veterans of the U.S. armed forces.

Letitia Sharp is Chief of the Business Office at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, La. (PHOTO: Phillip Butterfield, OBVAMC PA)

“Any veteran can go anywhere in the community,” Sharp says about the recent legislation. “If they’re closer to Willis Knighton, or if they’re in between Monroe and (Shreveport) and somewhere else is closer, they (veterans) don’t necessarily have to travel to the VA. We’ll cover them where they go in the community and transportation, if necessary, to get them the care that they need.”

What veterans qualify for suicidal crisis care?

Regardless of VA enrollment status, veterans will qualify for acute suicidal crisis care under the new legislation if they:

  • Were discharged or released after more than 24 months of active duty service under conditions other than dishonorable
  • Are former members of the armed forces, including reserve service members, who served under combat exclusion for more than 100 days or served in direct support of a contingency operation  or indirectly by operating an unmanned aerial vehicle from another location and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable
  • Are a former member of the armed forces who were victimized by a physical assault of a sexual nature, a battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment while serving in the armed forces

Billing information tips

The COMPACT Act does not require the VA and the emergency department nearest the veteran having a medical or mental health emergency to have an existing contract, as taking time to find an “approved” location could endanger the veteran in need of assistance.

Sharp says both combat and non-combat veterans are included in this legislation.

Veterans who use non-VA facilities for emergency suicide-related care should contact a VA patient advocate for a clinical review.

Sharp points out that if a veteran is already enrolled at the VA, they have certain avenues they can take. If you are a veteran currently enrolled at the VA and you seek treatment at a non-VA facility for a suicidal crisis, (844) 724-7842 is the VA number you should dial for dealing with billing issues.

Sharp says that if a veteran is not enrolled at the VA, there are specific actions they need to take, too. If you are a veteran who is not enrolled at the VA and seeks treatment at a non-VA facility for a suicidal crisis, you should call the Community Care Call Center at (877) 881-7618 with billing issues.

“The bottom line is they’ll be covered, and they won’t have barriers to prevent them from getting care,” she adds.

The Overton Brooks VAMC commitment

Phillip Butterfield is both a veteran and the Public Affairs Officer at OBVAMC, and he’s proud of the advancements the VA is making in the current generation. He says there are good reasons to choose to come to the VA for care that you can’t get anywhere else.

“This is the place to come, not just to get the services that you have earned—that you deserve—because veterans have gone through things that most people don’t. They see things that most people don’t, and they never will see these things. War is horrible. The VA is here to be your loving companion through your rehab, to get you back to being in the community. Whether it’s physical or mental, come here. Get help. No matter what happened to you, you have someone who has been through the same experience,” says Butterfield.

“We want the veteran to be safe, to recognize that the VA is here and committed,” adds Broomes. “But you are going to get our help where and when you want it… the holistic approach, whole health, every aspect is going to be coming to bear. We have the resources for our veterans and to get the word out there that we are here and that we care.”

Sharp says that veterans don’t get care a lot of times because they think they’re not eligible to use the VA, or they think it will be too complicated to get enrolled.

“But it’s not,” she says. “We’re opening up the doors for you to come and get help. I’m really excited to open those doors up.”

And for those vets who seek help for a suicidal crisis, Sharp says the VA will address the “what’s next” in life so they won’t have to wonder what will happen after treatment.

“This really is a continuation of the government to reach our veterans and empower them to make decisions about their health and welfare,” says Broomes. “We have laid the foundation and put things in place.”

“Come here. We love you. We understand what you’ve been through,” says Butterfield. “This is not your grandfather’s VA.”