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Free crisis care now available for all veterans

Producer Tanya Cleary went to Camp Freedom where she heard firsthand what this means for our hometown heroes.

CARBONDALE, Pa. — The announcement of free crisis care for all veterans was made by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this month, and as of Tuesday, it is in effect.

More than 6,100 veterans died by suicide in 2020.

That's an average of close to 17 of our service men and women every single day.

Many of those deaths can be avoided with the right mental health care.

The PACT Act aims to do just that.

Right now, there are around nine million unregistered veterans not in the V.A. health care system.

Those are the people who will benefit the most.

"This act, initiative, is open to all veterans. They can go into the hospital if they are in crisis, having suicidal ideations, or just mentally, they can't handle it. They can walk into any hospital or any urgent care and say, 'I need care.' And it's no cost to them," said Dave Eisele, Director of Lackawanna County Veteran Affairs 

And it isn't just a visit; it's good for up to 90 days of in-patient treatment. 

Newswatch 16 spoke with veterans and active servicemen at Camp Freedom in Lackawanna County.

Congressman Matt Cartwright says we have a duty to these men and women.

"Everybody knows post-traumatic stress is a huge of the veteran community. I mean, these are people that put their lives on the line under horribly stressful, unspeakably stressful conditions. But if we don't do everything we could do as a society to stand up for our veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress, then shame on us," Cartwright said.

There are qualifications one has to have in order to receive free treatment: 24 months of active duty served, up to two years of honorable service, and everything is covered unless you have a dishonorable discharge.

So if someone enters the emergency room, how do they prove that they're a veteran?

"They're still ironing out the details," Eisele said. "Most veterans that are currently enrolled into the system they have an I.D. card which will automatically show that they're a veteran. The nine million that aren't registered, they just have to self-identify, and then the V.A. is gonna take it up later on how to vet them,"  

Active Marine Reserves member, Frank Damiano, says mental health concerns aren't just an issue after serving, it exists in people who are currently serving as well, and that is why places like Camp Freedom exist.

"We offer something that a lot of other places don't, which is the camaraderie and the connection that we have with vets. Everyone here is either a veteran, or current military, or families of, so we understand a lot of the military mindset," Damiano said.

The Executive Director of Camp Freedom, Matt Guedes, says the Compact Act will be a tremendous help to those they help on a daily basis.

"A lot of things that come as a result of trauma and come as a result of transitioning out of the military is mental health crisis. So for us, this does incredible things. This Compact does incredible things in the sense that care can be immediate and can be given anywhere," said Guedes.

For more information, click here.

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