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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.

If you’re a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one, connect with our caring, qualified Veterans Crisis Line responders for confidential help. Many of them are Veterans themselves. This service is private, free, and available 24/7.

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

When to choose urgent care

Our VA and in-network urgent care providers can meet many of your health needs. They may be able to provide some diagnostic tests, like certain blood and urine tests. 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, or urine that looks cloudy or smells bad)

Learn more about getting urgent care at VA or in-network providers

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.

Learn more about getting emergency care at non-VA facilities

Signs of a physical emergency

Get emergency help right away for any symptoms like these:

  • 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, especially if you have any of these symptoms after the injury:

  • Severe dizziness or loss of consciousness (passing out)
  • Vomiting or nausea that won’t stop
  • High fever with a headache or stiff neck
  • Seizures
  • Dilated pupils
  • Clear fluids draining from the nose or ears

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.

What to know about emergency mental health care 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:

And we may be able to provide or cover the cost of your emergency mental health care and up to 90 days of related services—even if you’re not enrolled in VA health care.

Learn about eligibility for emergency mental health care

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 nationwide 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

VA benefits

  • Health care

    Apply for VA health care, find out how to access services, and manage your health and benefits online.

Need more help?

  • Health benefits hotline: 877-222-VETS (8387)
  • My HealtheVet help desk:
  • eBenefits technical support:
  • MyVA411 main information line:
  • Telecommunications Relay Services (using TTY) TTY: 711