Free Military Mental Health Help: 3 Myths Answered

It’s not that I actually need this appointment, I tell myself. It’s just a good thing to do — like getting a health screening or my annual flu shot.

And so I begrudgingly go each month, whether I feel like it or not. Sometimes, I take my kids with me, and they sit quietly with headphones and watch a movie. Sometimes, I duck out of work for 90 minutes to make it happen. Sometimes, I can think of one million other things I’d rather be doing.

But when I’m done, I’m always glad I went.

The monthly appointment is with my non-medical counselor, a woman named Judy who has an office attached to her home. And thanks to Military OneSource and Tricare, it’s free.

Yup, completely free.

Sitting in the back of a crowded room at a recent USO military spouse event listening to Rachel Hollis, author of The New York Times best-seller Girl Wash Your Face, I was shocked at how few spouses raised their hands when she asked who was currently in non-medical therapy. It could not have been more than 11 people.

And when she asked why people weren’t in therapy, a practice she considers preventative health help not emergency care, there was a parade of reasons based on “facts.”

None of those facts was completely accurate. I’m going to debunk them now.

3 Myths About Free Military Mental Health Help

Myth: There are no counselors available through Military OneSource or Tricare

Fact: It’s basically raining therapists.

I won’t argue that some areas have a higher demand and lower supply than others. I haven’t lived in each region — I can’t swear on a stack of Bibles that in-person therapy is easily available everywhere. But I can tell you that if, God forbid, there really are no in-person therapists available in Military OneSource’s network, you have other options. For example, therapists are available by video session or phone. Is that as nice as talking to someone in person? No. But it sure is convenient.

Myth: I can’t get therapy because I don’t have child care

Fact: Your kids shouldn’t prohibit you from getting care. Therapists understand that people have children. And while, no, taking your kids to your therapist appointment isn’t ideal, there are ways to make this work if you’re motivated to do so. For example, you can bring your kid with you, score a pair of headphones to put on her and distract her with a movie during your appointment. Swap child care with a friend. Utilize the child development center’s hourly care.

I can tell you that these methods of finding kid care for your therapy appointments work because I’ve done them. Therapists want you to be there, and they will help you come up with solutions for this barrier and many others, I promise.

Myth: “I have to get a referral.”

Fact: Military family members do not need a referral to get most types of mental health help.

The military provides mental health care to all dependents through two main avenues: Military OneSource and Tricare.

Through Military OneSource, all Defense Department beneficiaries, including National Guard and Reserve, can access up to 12 sessions of free non-medical counseling per issue or life problem by calling 800-342-9647 and going through a screening. If you have a new problem and need additional counseling, you can call again and get 12 more sessions.

For example, if deployment has made you seek counseling, you can get another 12 sessions as you deal with homecoming. Or maybe you’re navigating a sticky situation with your mother-in-law. Call and request sessions to help with that issue. No one will babysit your sessions to make sure that’s what you’re actually talking about with your counselor. Rather, it’s how Military OneSource tracks who is using the counseling services.

And if you use up your 12 free sessions and want to continue or don’t want to deal with Military OneSource to start with? Military dependents can self-refer through Tricare. In fact, it’s one of the few things covered by Tricare for which all plans can self-refer.

How much it costs to continue will depend on your plan and whether your therapist is in the Tricare network.

The only two categories of mental health help that require a Tricare referral are psychoanalysis and outpatient therapy for substance use disorder through a substance use disorder rehabilitation facility, according to Tricare.

Preventive Dental Care Can Dramatically Impact Your Health

Why Dental Care Matters

You know many tips to stay healthy, such as eating fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep, but did you know that practicing proper preventive dental care can also dramatically impact your overall health? Healthy dental hygiene can reduce your risk of developing dental problems, which can be associated with additional health issues.

Take, for example, gum disease, which has been linked to oral cancer, heart disease, diabetes, respiratory ailments, preterm birth, skin diseases, thyroid problems, and leukemia (1). Preventive dental services and routine dental care are critical components in helping to prevent serious health issues. A recent study conducted by Dominion Dental Services found that preventive dental care can be associated with reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations for people with chronic medical conditions (2).

Preventive Dental Care

Preventive dental care includes semi-annual dental checks-ups and routine dental care. At the dentist’s office, preventive care usually includes teeth cleanings, oral exams, X-rays and fluoride treatments for children. Some insurance plans offer members incentives to encourage wellness, help prevent future costly restorative work, and lower out-of-pocket costs. For example, Dominion Dental Services’ standard and high plans offer a Prevention Rewards Program, in which each family member who receives two cleanings during the plan year from a participating Dominion network dentist receives a $20 office copay reimbursement.

At home, preventive dental care consists of daily brushing, flossing, and eating a balanced diet. It’s essential to brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes and floss daily to prevent cavities and gum disease. Additionally, a balanced diet can protect your teeth by providing them with nutrients. Limiting your sugar intake and drinking plenty of water also helps to prevent cavities and promote healthy teeth.

Early Detection

While brushing teeth twice a day and flossing daily assist in the prevention of dental problems, semiannual dentist visits are also necessary as they promote early detection of dental issues that cannot be spotted at home. Early detection allows for timely treatment, which can help to avoid more serious and costly issues that could arise the longer a problem goes undetected. Dental insurance can encourage preventive dental care, and research suggests that people with dental coverage are twice as likely to visit a dentist than those without dental insurance (3).

At-Risk Populations

Preventive dental care is especially critical for at-risk populations, which includes people with diabetes and expectant mothers. For example, diabetics are at a higher risk for gum disease, and other oral health issues such as thrush and dry mouth, which can cause soreness, ulcers, infection and cavities (4). Additionally, it is estimated that up to 50% of pregnant women develop pregnancy gingivitis and dentists may recommend an additional cleaning to help manage it (5). Due to the higher risk for these populations, some dental plans such as Dominion Dental Services, provide these groups with an extra cleaning. If you are a diabetic or expectant mother, you may want to select a dental plan that covers an additional cleaning.

Coverage for Non-Preventive Dental Care

While most dental plans cover preventive care at no charge, calculating out-of-pocket costs for non-preventive dental services differs depending on plan type.

A Dental Health Maintenance Organization (DHMO) plan includes predictable, pre-determined fees designed for transparency. In a DHMO plan, there are specific co-payments listed for each covered service. If you know the dental procedures you need to have completed, you will know exactly how much you will pay for your dental care before you even go to the dentist.

A Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan covers procedures at a co-insurance percentage. With a PPO plan, your out-of-pocket costs may not be immediately evident. For example, a major service like a crown may be covered at 50 percent. To calculate your actual cost, you will need to determine how much your dentist will charge you for that procedure under the contracted arrangement with the dental plan. It is also important to understand your plan’s annual maximum as your plan will only cover up to that amount each year. Dominion’s DHMO plans have no annual maximum limit to the number of services you receive each year.

Many dental carriers provide a comparison tool that will allow you to compare features and your cost for specific procedures. Compare costs and co-pays for standard and high Dominion Dental Services plans here.

Veteran Health ID Card (VHIC) and How to Get It

What do you need to know about the Veteran Health ID Card? The Department of Veterans Affairs notes that veterans have several ID cards offered to them.

For example, military retirees get a DoD ID indicating they have access to base privileges (BX, commissary, health clinics, etc.), those who choose to get Veteran indicators on their state-issued ID, even Common Access Cards or similar access control badges for those who need them for employment once they have retired or separated but still remain in federal service.

And then there is the Veteran Health ID Card (VHIC), which is just as important in its own way. The Department of Veterans Affairs advises that those enrolled in VA health care will be issued to you to use during check-ins when receiving care at a VA medical facility.

This card may also double as a form of veteran ID when claiming veteran-specific benefits at local businesses, big-box retail chains such as Target or WalMart, etc.


How To Get A Veteran Health ID Card

Veterans cannot be issued a VHIC without first enrolling in the VA health care system. You can sign up online at the VA official site. Only those enrolled in the VA health care system are eligible for the VHIC.

Electronic applications for VA health care benefits are available online, and you may also sign up for VA health care at the nearest VA medical facility.  Once your photo is taken, your health ID card will be processed and sent to you via U.S. Mail.

You will need to provide certain documentation when signing up for the VA health care system that includes but may not be limited to your most recent tax returns, Social Security Cards and/or numbers, and account numbers for any existing health insurance whether from your employer, from Medicare, or private insurance plans.

Valid ID Required

When signing up for the VHIC, veterans are required to provide one form of approved, current ID that may be one of the following:

  • Primary Identification (Unexpired)
  • State-Issued driver’s license
  • United States passport or passport card
  • Other unexpired government ID

Identification cards issued by federal, state or local government agencies are also permitted as long as the ID contains a photograph, full name, date of birth, and address. You may be required to provide further documentation of your current address depending on circumstances including an ID card with an outdated address, an ID card that has no address listed, etc.

The VA has a list of “acceptable address documents” that can include but may not be limited to:

  • Electric bill
  • Cable bill
  • “Other mailing document”
  • Voter registration card

Who is Eligible for VA Health Care and the VHIC?

Those who serve as active duty military members who retire or separate and do not have a discharge characterized as Dishonorable. You may also qualify as a current or former National Guard or Reserve member called to active duty by a federal order.

The requirements in this area include having served the full period ordered to active duty. Those activated only for training purposes do not qualify.

Other Rules for Qualifying for VA Health Care and A Veteran Health ID Card

Those who enlisted after September 7, 1980 or entered active duty after October 16, 1981 are required to have served “24 continuous months or the full period for which you were called to active duty,” unless any of the following apply:

  • The service member was discharged for a disability caused or aggravated by active-duty service.
  • The service member was given an early out or hardship discharge.
  • The service member was on duty before September 7, 1980.

Military members with punitive discharges such as Bad Conduct, Other Than Honorable, or Dishonorable discharges may be eligible for VA health care and the Veteran Health ID Card if they successfully navigate the discharge review process and have a Discharge Review Board upgrade the nature of the discharge to a non-punitive one.

If you must sign up for VA health care using a power of attorney, (POA) the VA advises for best results, include a copy of that POA along with your application documents.

How The Veteran Health ID Card Works

The first thing to consider is what the VHIC is NOT; it is not an insurance card; it cannot be used to pay for health care services and does not function as an insurance ID card. It also does NOT authorize care at non-VA or out-of-network facilities.

These are very important distinctions to make, especially when time is of the essence and the right ID is needed to obtain medical services and determine who pays for them.

The Veteran Health ID Card includes the following features as listed on the Department of Veterans Affairs official site. These features may be subject to change depending on mission needs, federal legislation, changes in VA policy, etc.

At the time of this writing, only those enrolled in VA health care will receive these cards, which include:

  • Privacy protection. “No personally identifiable information is contained on the magnetic stripe or barcode” of your VHIC according to the VA.
  • A DoD-created “personal identifier” code that helps the VA access your health records at the VA facility you where you are being treated.
  • Accessibility for the visually impaired; the card features Braille that can help users quickly locate and use the VHIC.
  • Anti-counterfeiting measures built-in to further secure your card.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Veteran Health ID Card

I Am Still Serving The U.S. Military. Can I Get A VHIC?

Those who have not retired or separated from military service should expect to apply for a VHIC once they are eligible to apply for VA health care services. The VA official site reminds, “The VHIC is issued only to Veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system.”

How Long Does It Take To Get My Card?

According to the VA, once the photo is taken for your card, you should get it in the U.S. Mail in approximately ten working days.

Who Do I Contact To Check The Status Of My VHIC?

If you are concerned about delays or need to check the status of your card, call the local VA medical facility where you got your ID card photo taken, or contact the VA directly at 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

I Have An Old VHIC That Is Being Replaced. What Do I Do With The Old VHIC?

The Department of Veterans Affairs recommends destroying the card by cutting or shredding. The entire card should be destroyed as soon as possible once you get the replacement VHIC.

My VHIC Was Lost or Stolen. What Should I Do?

Call the local VA facility where you had your VHIC picture taken and request a new card. You can also contact the VA directly at 1-877-222-VETS (8387). Be prepared to identify yourself and furnish new ID information when reporting your lost or stolen card; have this information handy when you call.

Do I Need To Keep My TRICARE Cards or Other Healthcare ID?

Do not get rid of any other ID card for health care such as an insurance card, TRICARE where applicable, your DoD-issued ID, etc. The VHIC is only used to check in for care, not to pay or arrange payment, etc. It does NOT function as insurance or proof of insurance.

7 Ways to Keep Military Health Care Affordable

Revamping health care is constantly in the headlines as officials attempt to hammer out a way to make health care costs – one of the largest sources of debt and bankruptcy in the nation – more manageable for more Americans.

Free or reasonably priced health care coverage is one of the ways the American public decided to help compensate members of the military, their families, and military retirees for their service to the nation. Tricare offers a wide range of health plans for a variety of needs, and many of these plans allow for free medical care, or care at very low cost compared to the prices paid by civilians.

Nonetheless, co-payments, medications, dental and vision care can add up. Try these suggestions to help keep the cost of medical care manageable:

  1. Keep up to date with checkups. Don’t skimp on care to save a few dollars, especially if you have a health condition that requires regular monitoring. Be sure children get all necessary vaccinations, and take preventive measures such as getting a flu vaccination every year.
  2. See the right doctors. You want the best care possible, but also the best price. Whenever possible, by going to a military medical facility such as a hospital, clinic or sick bay, you’ll receive high-quality care at the lowest cost to you. If no military facility is near you, check with your health insurance plan to determine the best civilian option.
  3. Choose the right plan. Review all your options when choosing coverage under Tricare. Tricare offers several coverage levels that have different options to choose providers, etc., at different cost points. Carefully consider all your options, including what physicians you will want to see, how healthy you and your family are, and anticipated future medical needs, to determine the right level of care for you.
  4. Ask for the best deal. Talk to the manager of patient accounts about your situation. Your Tricare benefits might vary depending on your plan level and whether you or the physician’s office files your claim. For example, if you use the point-of-service option (POS) to visit a non-network, non-participating physician, they can charge you up to 15 percent more than the agreed-upon Tricare rate. If you plan to see a physician regularly, then discuss any options that can make your care more cost effective.
  5. Cut drug costs. First, seek to receive your medications from a military treatment facility, where they are free. Otherwise, ask your doctor if a generic medication will work as well as a brand-name one for you. If it is equally effective, a generic drug costs two-thirds less when ordered through Tricare’s mail-order pharmacy. If not, look into all options, including discount medications from warehouse club and discount/chain stores, to find the best deal on needed medicines.
  6. Deduct what you can. Develop a method — whether a spreadsheet, a shoebox for receipts, or a list in a notebook — to keep track of what you spend on medical care. If you spend more than 7.5 percent of your income, you could be eligible to deduct those costs from your income taxes.
  7. Save with an FSA. If your employer or your spouse’s employer offers a flexible spending account (FSA), take advantage of it. An FSA allows employees to have money deducted, pretax, from their paychecks for medical care. Look at canceled checks, bills or credit card statements to determine how much you spent on medical care (out of your own pocket, outside of health plan benefits) last year. One rule of thumb is to request withholding of about 80 percent of that amount, to be safe. Be sure you can spend the full amount you have deducted, because if you do not spend it, you lose it.

Medical care can be a challenging expense, especially when unexpected conditions arise. Fortunately, by planning as many cost savings as you can foresee, you can make a difference in the cost of care for you and your family.