VA Eliminates Copays for First Three Mental Health Visits Annually Through 2027

Veterans mental healthCredit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a significant change aimed at improving access to mental health services for Veterans. Effective immediately, Veterans will no longer need to pay copays for their first three outpatient mental health care and substance use disorder visits each calendar year through 2027. This new benefit is intended to reduce out-of-pocket costs and expand access to essential mental health services.

This exemption, which dates back to June 27, 2023, will end on December 29, 2027. It applies to visits with qualified mental health professionals at VA facilities or through VA’s network of community care providers. Veterans who have already paid copays for these appointments since June 27, 2023, will receive automatic refunds, requiring no further action on their part.

The VA’s initiative is part of a broader effort to provide timely, high-quality mental health care to Veterans. Currently, the VA is delivering more mental health appointments than ever before while reducing wait times for new appointments. Notably, Veteran trust in VA outpatient care has reached 91.8%, an all-time high, and recent studies show VA care outperforming non-VA care in various quality measures.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough emphasized the importance of this change. “We want every Veteran, regardless of their financial status, to have access to the mental health care they deserve—and that’s what this copayment exemption is all about,” he said. “We are constantly working to expand access to mental health care, and we won’t rest until every Veteran has access to care whenever and wherever they need it.”

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In addition to the copayment exemption, the VA launched a new policy in 2023 allowing eligible Veterans and certain former service members in acute suicidal crisis to access no-cost emergency health care at any VA or non-VA facility. Since its implementation, over 60,000 Veterans and former service members have utilized this benefit, receiving lifesaving care without incurring costs. This policy has expanded access to emergency suicide care for up to 9 million individuals, including those not enrolled in the VA system.

To support these initiatives, the VA has been aggressively hiring mental health professionals nationwide. Over the past three fiscal years, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has filled more than 9,000 mental health positions, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other specialists. In fiscal year 2024 alone, the VHA made 2,000 new hires. Additionally, retention rates for VHA employees, including mental health professionals, are at record highs and surpass private sector benchmarks.

This copay exemption is part of the Cleland-Dole Act of 2022, reflecting a continued commitment by the VA to improve mental health care access for Veterans. The implications are profound. By eliminating financial barriers, the VA is ensuring that more Veterans can receive the mental health care they need, ultimately improving their quality of life and well-being.

In summary, the VA’s new copayment exemption for mental health services marks a critical step in making care more accessible and affordable for Veterans. This initiative, alongside other efforts to expand emergency care and increase mental health professional staffing, demonstrates the VA’s dedication to supporting those who have served our country.

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