There a vast array of federal and local benefits veterans may be eligible for after they leave service—like education, housing and even tax breaks. There are also a number of benefits available immediately to veterans to address of some of their most pressing concerns—their physical and mental health.
Is it true that some combat veterans are eligible for free health care?
Yes. Veterans who served in a theater of combat operations after November 11, 1998 are eligible for free medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs for five years following their discharge. This covers any condition possibly related to their service in theater.
According to the VA, “the 5-year enrollment period begins on the discharge or separation date of the service member from active duty military service, or in the case of multiple call-ups, the most recent discharge date.”
Veterans are strongly encouraged to enroll during this period of eligibility—even if no medical care is required—in order to receive the full measure of coverage available. After the five-year period is over, eligibility for enrollment will be decided by other factors such as service-connected disability or special financial circumstances.
There is no enrollment fee, monthly premium or deductible for this coverage during this five-year period, and once enrolled the veteran will remain enrolled. Additionally, enrollment with VA fulfills the health care law’s requirement for coverage.
Are Guard and Reserve members eligible for this coverage as well?
All veterans—to include activated Reservists and National Guard members—are eligible if they served on active duty in a theater of combat operations after November 11, 1998, and have been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.
What mental health care treatment options are available to veterans?
In July 2017, the VA announced an expansion of urgent mental health care services to former service members with other-than-honorable administrative discharges as a means of aiding those who are in distress or may be at risk for suicide. Now, all VA medical centers began offer emergency stabilization care for those former service members who present at the facility with urgent mental health needs. Those individuals are able to receive care for their mental health emergency for an initial period of up to 90 days, which can include inpatient, residential or outpatient care.
How can a veteran not enrolled in VA access mental health care treatment now?
The Veterans Crisis Line
Currently, any veteran in distress may call the Veterans Crisis Line to access free, confidential support 24/7. The resource connects veterans, their families and friends with qualified Department of Veterans Affairs responders through:
- a toll-free hotline, 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1;
- online chat at net; or
- text message, 838255
Veterans Crisis Line staff members are able to connect veterans with VA services, and make necessary referrals to local suicide prevention coordinators and VA providers specializing in issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma and more.
The Veterans Crisis Line website also features a resource locator, which can direct veterans to local VA suicide prevention coordinators, crisis centers, VA medical centers and outpatient clinics, Vet Centers and Veterans Benefits Administration offices.
Local community-based Vet Centers help combat veterans, service members and their families with readjustment counseling needs in more than 300 locations across the U.S. and surrounding territories, all at no cost to the individuals seeking assistance.
Veterans can find the nearest Vet Center by accessing the online locator, or by calling the 24-hour confidential call center at 1-877-WAR VETS (1.877.927.8387). The staff is comprised of combat veterans as well as family members of combat veterans.
Eligibility is open to any veteran, active duty service member (including Guard and Reserve members) who: served on active duty in a combat theater; experienced military sexual trauma; provided direct emergent medical care or mortuary services to casualties of war while on active duty; or served as a member of an unmanned aerial vehicle crew providing direct support to combat operations.
Vet Centers maintain non-traditional operating hours in order to best serve the schedules and needs of veterans and their families.
How can a veteran seek VA health care for physical or mental health care issues caused by service?
Many veterans carry lasting scars of their military service—whether they are visible or invisible. If a veteran was injured, fell ill or suffered a trauma during their time in the military, they may wish to file a claim for disability benefits through the VA in order to have that condition verified as service-connected, thus making them eligible for necessary health care coverage.
It can be helpful to enlist the help of a professional benefits expert to guide you through the process. Many, like those at DAV, provide their expertise and service at absolutely no cost to the service member, veteran or their family.
- Find a DAV benefits expert by visiting DAV’s online locator.
- Current military members looking for assistance as they separate from service can visit one of DAV’s transition service offices.
- Don’t see an office nearby? DAV has more than 1,300 local chapters and departments, and most are staffed by trained veteran experts who can help facilitate your claim. You can also check and see if a DAV Mobile Service Office will be visiting your area soon to help deliver services directly to your local area.