Health Insurance for Active-Duty Military and Veterans

June 23, 2022

Are you an active-duty service member or a veteran? If so, there are many health plan choices for you and your family. This article will explain your healthcare choices and the difference between healthcare systems such as the Military Health System (MHS) and Veterans Affairs (VA). It also points you to resources for veterans.

If You’re in Active Duty
If you’re in active duty, you’ll need to sign up for the military healthcare program called TRICARE. Here’s a look at how it works and other health plan choices.

TRICARE. TRICARE is the federal health plan program run by the US Department of Defense. It’s for active-duty service members, family and retired members of all military branches. You can find out if you’re eligible here.

All active-duty service members must join TRICARE Prime® or, depending on your duty station, one of a few other plans. They are TRICARE Prime Remote, TRICARE Prime Overseas and TRICARE Prime Remote Overseas. TRICARE Prime is like a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO). That’s a plan where you typically get all your care from doctors and other providers in the plan’s network. There are no sign-up fees for active-duty service members.

TRICARE Prime is available in areas around military hospitals and clinics. This system is known as the Military Health System (MHS). To find a military hospital or clinic near you, click here. When you sign up for TRICARE Prime, you choose a primary care manager (PCM) who is a TRICARE-authorized provider. He or she gives you most of your routine care. He or she also arranges referrals to specialists and hospitals.

Military family, survivors and certain military service members can join TRICARE Select®. This is like a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO). That’s a type of plan where you can see any doctor you want without a referral. But, if you visit a doctor outside the plan’s network, your costs are typically higher. There’s an enrollment fee to sign up for TRICARE Select. There also are different plans if you’re in the National Guard or Reserve, which are based on your military status.

There are many kinds of TRICARE plans. Find out which TRICARE plan is right for you and your family here.

Employer-sponsored plans. If you’re working and leave your job for military service, you may be able to stay on your employer’s health insurance for up to 24 months. If your service is for more than 30 days, you may have to pay up to 102 percent of the total monthly premium (your share plus your employer’s share). If your spouse or domestic partner is working and has health coverage, you also may be able to get covered on his or her employer’s plan.

If You’re a Veteran
If you’re a military veteran, you can sign up for VA health benefits. There also are other health plan choices for which you can sign up.

VA health benefits. If you served in the military and were discharged other than dishonorably, you’re eligible for healthcare from the Veterans Affairs (VA) health system. The VA health system is run by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. If you qualify for VA health benefits, you can get care from more than 1,200 VA care locations throughout the country. You may be covered for preventive care, inpatient hospital care, urgent and emergency care and other services like mental healthcare. You can get free care if an illness or injury is related to your military service. You can find out more about VA health benefits, how they work and eligibility here.

If you have other health insurance, like private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or TRICARE, you also can use your VA health benefits together with these plans. For more information about how your VA health benefits work with other health insurance, click here.

Buy your own. You can buy coverage straight from an insurer. You also can buy it through a Health Insurance Marketplace or Exchange that the federal government and many states run. These are websites where you can buy health insurance.

Medicaid. If your income is under certain limits, you also may be able to get free or low-cost health coverage through Medicaid. Medicaid is a state-based program funded jointly by the federal and state governments.

Employer-sponsored plans. If you’re working and your employer offers health coverage, you can sign up for that plan. If your spouse or domestic partner is working and has health coverage, you also may be able to get covered on his or her employer’s plan.

If You’re Retired from the Military
If you’ve finished a career of 20 years or more in the military, or were honorably discharged due to a physical disability, you’re a retired military veteran. If you’re a retired military veteran, you have several health insurance options. You can sign up for VA health benefits or TRICARE, or both. You can also buy your own insurance, sign up for your spouse’s plan or enroll in Medicaid if you qualify. You also may be eligible for Medicare. This is the US health insurance program for people 65 and older (and for those with disabilities and certain illnesses). Learn more about health insurance options for retirees here.

Resources for Veterans
After serving in the military, veterans may need help with mental healthcare, job training, financial assistance and other services. There are many websites that offer resources and support services for veterans, such as Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, Homes for Our Troops and AARP. You also can find a list of additional resources here.