Military retirees and their family members have a few different options available for healthcare while traveling full-time. In this article we’ll share information on the most common including utilizing Tricare, the VA, and Medicare.
Health Care is one area where you can be thankful for the benefits you receive as a retired military member. When we speak at RV shows, we hear about couples paying well over $1000 a month for health care and others that go without because they simply cannot afford it. The premiums for most civilian health care plans make the cost of Tricare Prime seem very minuscule.
All military retirees and their family members can use their Tricare health benefits by choosing Tricare Prime or Tricare Select. We’ll briefly explain how each affects full-time travelers.
We initially enrolled in Tricare Prime the first year after I retired. We set-up a primary care manager in Washington D.C. at the National Military Medical Center. Since we had two kids in D.C. at the time, we figured it would be a place we would frequently visit and would be able to get the care we needed while in the area.
However, we quickly learned that there are a few issues with using Tricare Prime as full-time traveler. The main concern we hear about is having to get a referral for any care not with the primary care manager. For emergencies, it is pretty easy, but for routine or non-emergent care, it can get tough getting the authorization especially if you are in a location that makes it impossible for you to see the primary care manager first and are outside of the contractor’s region.
Most travelers we know use Tricare Select, formerly called Tricare Standard, when full-time traveling. It does not require primary care manager authorization to seek care and allows the user to see any Tricare authorized provider, network or non-network, but there is some expense that goes along with it in terms of co-pays and deductibles.
Tricare Young Adult is a program for adult children up to age 26 are not enrolled in school and do not have healthcare through their job. This also has a prime and select option with associated fees. We have a son in San Antonio who uses the Prime option and his payment is around $350 per month. If you are going to pay this for your children while they are on it, make sure to consider that in your budget. Or, you can make them pay for it themselves!
Medicare and Tricare for Life
If you or your spouse is of Medicare age, that throws in a bunch of other options that will need to be considered. You qualify for Tricare for Life that works with your Medicare benefits.
Start Planning Now
The best recommendation we can give is to sit down with someone at the local Tricare office within the medical treatment facility and discuss your plan of traveling and have them explain your options. They are up to date on the latest rules and regulations and will be able to give you the best advice for your situation.
Tricare seems to be a dynamic program that changes slightly every year. It is important to stay on top of the changes to make sure you do not let something fall through the cracks. Although this medical insurance for retired military veterans is not free, it is A LOT less expensive than many others. The years of sacrifice have left us with this great benefit, but keeping it from lapsing requires some effort on our part. Make sure you take health care planning seriously to prevent any problems when an emergency occurs.
Some retired military members are eligible to receive healthcare at VA facilities. For example, veterans with a service connected disability can be seen for that condition at no cost. However, if your overall rating is 50% or greater, you can use the VA for all of your healthcare, except dental care. As of this writing, you have to be 100% rated to get dental care at the VA.
There are also various rules associated with using the VA depending on your rating. It is better to get informed on all the rules that apply to your situation when you receive your rating.
The other nice thing about the VA is they have the Traveling Veteran Program. This allows you to keep a primary care manager at one location, but access the VAs in the area you will be traveling to. As an example, Julie fell and broke her foot and dislocated her toe in Oklahoma City. She was treated at the VA Hospital Emergency Room there and her follow up care was at the San Antonio, TX VA Hospital. All while our primary care manager is in Tampa, Florida. She broke her foot in Oklahoma City, where it was taken care of by the local VA emergency room. She then did her follow-up appointments at the San Antonio VA facility. It was very easy.
We have received care at numerous VA clinics and hospitals in six states and have never had to wait long for appointments. In addition, we’ve always felt that we received quality care.
Get Started Before You Retire
If you are not yet retired, you can get started on your VA claim within 6 months of retiring is to file with the VA to see what, if any, disability rating you are eligible to receive. Even if you think you will not get any rating, file anyway. It is worth the time to go through the process.
The process is not just for a current rating, but it is also a way to document your medical problems with the VA in the event that some conditions develop or get worse in the future. We run in to a lot of veterans, retired and not, who never took this step. In our opinion, it is much easier to get this done early rather than wait until you actually have a problem. There will be multiple appointments associated with the filing. It is better to get them done all in the same location to avoid paperwork getting transferred and possibly lost.
I filed right at the 180-day point before my retirement and I was able to have all of the appointments completed before my terminal leave even began. I received my rating within a couple of months of my actual retirement date. Julie did not file until after her retirement date and it took her about a year to go through the process. So, it varies and it is better to get a jump on it to not delay your RV travel date.
Many military treatment facilities have a person that can assist with filing the VA claim and some have Veteran Service Organization officers that can file on your behalf. If not, call the local VA and find out how to start the process and what VSOs are located on-site. Again, do not wait until you are on the road or are seriously ill. Get the process completed as soon as possible. The VA is still a bureaucracy, so the process takes time.
We both get our care at the VA since we are both rated at over 50%. We really like the VA, so far, and actually prefer it to going to the military medical treatment facilities.