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Choosing between urgent and emergency care

When you need medical care quickly, choosing the right provider can save you time, money, and stress. Read this page to understand when to choose urgent care, when to call 911 or go to the emergency room, and when to consider other types of care.

What to do if you think your life or health is in danger

Go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.

    How to get help if you’re in crisis and need to talk with someone right away

      When to choose urgent care

      Our VA and in-network urgent care providers can meet many of your health needs. And you can often get care for minor illnesses or injuries much faster than in an emergency room. 

      Urgent care might be right for you if you have health problems or symptoms like these:

      • A sore throat or persistent cough
      • Strains, sprains, or minor broken bones 
      • Deep cuts that are no longer bleeding a lot
      • Allergies
      • Mild burns
      • Mild nausea or vomiting
      • Urinary tract infection symptoms (like needing to pee often or urgently; urine that looks cloudy or smells bad; pain when you pee; or pain in your side, abdomen, or pelvic area)

      When to call 911 or go to the emergency room

      Any time you think your life or health is in danger, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911 right away. If you or someone else has symptoms that can’t wait, don’t try to drive to an emergency room. Call 911 to have emergency care come to you. These include symptoms like choking, stopped breathing, severe chest pain, or signs of a mental health emergency.

      If you need emergency care, you don’t need a VA referral or approval to go to a non-VA emergency room in your community.

      Signs of a physical emergency

      Get emergency help right away for any symptoms like these:

      • Head injury
      • Trouble breathing
      • Falling without a known cause
      • Cuts that won’t stop bleeding, severe burns, or wounds that won’t close
      • Stroke symptoms (like slurred speech, sudden numbness or weakness in a part of your body, loss of balance or vision, or a drooping face)
      • Chest pain or discomfort (like pressure, squeezing, or a feeling of fullness in your chest) 
      • Severe allergic reaction symptoms (like swelling lips or trouble swallowing or breathing) 
      • Vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain during pregnancy

      Also get emergency help right away for head injuries or any of these symptoms:

      • Severe dizziness or losing consciousness (passing out)
      • A headache that keeps getting worse or won’t go away
      • Vomiting or nausea that won’t stop
      • A high fever with a headache or stiff neck
      • Seizures
      • Dilated pupils, trouble waking up or staying awake, or clear fluids draining from the nose or ears after a head injury

      These symptoms aren’t all the signs of an emergency. When in doubt, get help right away.

      Signs of a mental health emergency

      Get emergency help right away if you or someone else has any of these signs of a mental health emergency:

      • Trying or threatening to hurt oneself or someone else
      • Being severely disoriented or out of touch with reality
      • Acting out of control

      If you can, take steps to safely store any items that could be used to hurt someone during a mental health emergency. You can also ask someone you trust to help you store these items.

      Remember: At VA, we can help connect you with mental health care—no matter your discharge status, service history, or eligibility for VA health care. And our Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential help 24/7.

      To connect with a Veterans Crisis Line responder anytime day or night:

      Other types of VA care to consider

      If you don’t need help right away, you might want to consider other types of VA care.

      Same-day services for primary or mental health care

      Every VA medical center offers some same-day primary care and mental health services. Types of services vary by location.

      Find your nearest VA facility with same-day services

      Telehealth for care by phone or video

      Meet with your VA health care team and send important health data from home through telehealth. You can also connect with VA specialists across the country from a VA clinic near you.

      Learn more about VA telehealth

      Whole Health for a personalized health plan

      Whole Health is an approach to care that supports your health and well-being. This approach puts you at the center of your care. Your health team will get to know you as a person first. Then, they’ll work with you to create a personalized health plan based on your values, needs, and goals.

      Learn more about Whole Health

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