Springfield-based organization that helps vets is cautiously optimistic about VA’s plan to provide free mental health care to vets in crisis

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 7:20 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2023 at 7:31 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - As of January 17, U.S. military veterans who find themselves in a suicidal crisis are eligible for free emergency medical care at any Department of Veterans Affairs facility or any private facility.

Veterans do not have to be enrolled in the VA system to be eligible, and more than 18 million veterans in the U.S. could be eligible.

“Just because it’s being offered doesn’t mean we’re going to have this huge rush of veterans who are going to run to these mental health services,” said Kevin Weaver, the CEO/President of The Warrior’s Journey. “Because a lot of people don’t want to confess that they need these services.”

Weaver, a veteran himself, is quite familiar with the situation because his Springfield-based The Warrior’s Journey provides resources, services, and individual support to thousands of veterans and active service members worldwide who are dealing with what he refers to as “invisible wounds.”

“We focus on the care of the soul,” he said. “Things that deal with the complexity of life. Family coupled with military life that most people don’t understand. But most people walk around with these issues in their life that you never see. We often think of post-traumatic stress, but in our research of the top 12 issues, PTSD was number 10. The number one issue was isolation. That leads to places of insecurity and identity. Family brokenness. Deep loss, as in not just losing their buddies in combat but missing valuable time with their children and knowing they can never get that back. So when they come to us, we get them connected one-on-one warrior-to-warrior with someone who’s had a similar experience and give them the chance to bond and work on those things from a soul-care perspective.”

Weaver’s organization also works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, so he was encouraged to hear the announcement this week that the VA is offering free emergency suicide care plus paying for transportation costs and up to 30 days of inpatient crisis residential care and up to 90 days of follow-up outpatient care.

Nationwide there are over 21 million veterans, with almost 480,000 in Missouri. And a national report says across the country, there are 20 veterans committing suicide every day.

“We really believe that number is much higher,” Weaver said. “Sometimes things like people driving a car off a bridge or hanging themselves are not included in the data. But since 9/11, what we do know is 7,076 have died in action, and over 30,000 have come home and taken their own life. It’s an epidemic. So I think most of the American people feel like we need to take care of our veterans, and this recent decision has been amazing. We don’t know exactly what that process will look like yet, so we are anxious to see how it will work. What is the process? What is the protocol? Are they going to get a bill from the hospital and be discouraged because they have to go through a lot of red tapes to get reimbursed? They don’t need that.”

Blake Leitch shares those concerns. As the Chief Operations Officer of The Warrior’s Journey, he, too, is a veteran who’s won multiple purple hearts from his time in Iraq.

“I want to stay positive because I want to think this is going to be good for the veterans,” he said. “But the VA is making this blanket statement that they’re going to front the bill for the vets with all these different health care providers, and that’s a huge statement. I’m a 100 percent disabled veteran, and I recently had a medical emergency myself that was supposed to be covered 100 percent with no questions asked. That’s the promise the VA has made to me. Don’t worry about the medical bill. Just tell them you’re with the VA, and everything will be taken care of. That was several months ago, and I’m still dealing with this medical provider that’s saying, ‘Our policy states that we can’t contact the insurance company.’ The insurance company is the VA, so we’re going back and forth now. If this would have been a suicide situation for a veteran who’s already going through plenty of other things in their life, they don’t need to be dealing with things like that. We know the VA has a history of saying one thing, and then things don’t pan out that way. It’s government. But I’m excited about this because I know our organization can help the veterans and local health care providers to work through the red tape and get results.”

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