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Veterans Affairs Health Benefits Overview
Part 1 of the Transitioning to VA series
No veteran should ever be left behind. If you are a service member transitioning to veteran status you may know that there are many resources available to you and your family, but you may not know where to start. In order to help make your transition less daunting, the Real Warriors Campaign has worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to produce this three-part series to highlight the most frequently asked questions that service members and their families have while transitioning.
This first article introduces you to VA and the VA health care system.
1. Will VA help me transition from military to civilian life?
VA’s Book, “Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors,” has an entire chapter devoted to transition assistance services, which service members, veterans and family members may find useful.
Follow our three-part series entitled Transitioning to the VA:
Part 1: Veterans Affairs Health Benefits Overview
Part 2: Compensation, Pension and Other VA Benefits
Part 3: Veterans Affairs in the Digital Age
In addition, VA works with the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor and the Department of Transportation to develop programs that address specific needs for service members in transition. Some of these programs include:
- The Transition Assistance Program (TAP): TAP is a three-day workshop designed to provide job-search assistance and job-related services to service members within 180 days of separation or retirement. A special extended version of this workshop, the Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP), exists for service members leaving the military with a service-connected disability.1
- The Pre-Discharge Program: Under this initiative, service members are able to file claims for VA disability compensation and other benefits up to 180 days prior to separation or retirement. There are two primary components of the Pre-Discharge Program: Benefits Delivery at Discharge and Quick Start.23
2. Does VA provide resources specifically for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans?
In addition to the services and resources available to all Veterans, VA offers expanded services and special programs for OEF/OIF veterans. For example, all OEF/OIF combat veterans can receive free medical care for any combat-related condition for five years after the date of their honorable discharge or release.
Throughout the year, VA Medical Centers also host “Welcome Home” events to spread the word to returning service members and their families about important benefits and services available to them. You can locate an event near you by visiting the Welcome Home events website. Additionally, VA personnel are regularly stationed at major military hospitals to help seriously injured service members begin the transition to civilian life.
If you are an OEF/OIF service member, there are also specific resources available to you through the OEF/OIF Program Office website. If you have further questions about your VA benefits or need assistance filing a claim, contact your nearest VA office or call 1-800-827-1000.2
We want to hear from you! Visit the Real Warriors Campaign Message Boards to learn about the tools and resources that helped Maj. Ed Pulido transition from the military to his civilian career. You can also share your own stories and tips with other service members and military families experiencing the transition process.
3. Where can I go for help if I am affected by an invisible wound?
If you are in crisis, please call 911, go to your nearest Emergency Room or call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273- 8255 (Spanish: 1-888-628-9454). Veterans press “1” after you call.4
All VA Medical Centers and many VA clinics also have trauma specialists. Find a VA posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) program near you using the PTSD program locator, or for more information call the PTSD Information Line at (802) 296-6300.5
Vet Centers also provide a range of counseling, outreach, and referral services. Use the locator to find a center near you, or call 1-800-905-4675 (EST) or 1-866-496-8838 (PST) during normal business hours.
You can also visit Real Warriors Live Chat where a trained health resource consultant is ready to talk, listen and provide the guidance and resources you’re looking for. Call 1-866-966-1020 or log on to speak with someone now.
4. What psychological health resources does VA provide?
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides a wide variety of psychological health resources at its medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics. Services include:
- Inpatient care
- Residential care
- Outpatient mental health care
- Homelessness prevention programs
- Programs for incarcerated veterans
- Specialized posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) services
- Military sexual trauma care
- Psychosocial rehabilitation & recovery services
- Substance use disorders programs
- Suicide prevention programs
- Violence prevention
- Evidence-based psychotherapy programs
- Mental health disaster response/post deployment activities
Please visit VA’s mental health home page for more information.
5. Am I eligible for VA health benefits?
Your eligibility for VA health benefits is determined by the length of your active duty military service, character of discharge and qualification for one of the eight enrollment priority groups (which may be based on financial considerations). If you would like help determining these factors, you can:
- Take the two-question eligibility quiz to help determine your eligibility, and use the financial calculator for financial information
- Check out the fact sheet for enrollment priority group definitions and information [PDF 178KB]
- If you are inside the U.S., call 1-800-424-7877
- If you are outside the U.S., call collect (314) 387-4700
- Download the inTransition fact sheet [PDF 481KB] for more information
6. How do I enroll in the VA health care system?
Enrolling in the VA health care system requires completion of VA Form 10-10EZ. You can fill out this form by:
- Visiting the 10-10EZ website
- Visiting, calling or writing any VA health care facility or Veterans Benefits Office
- Calling VA Health Resource Center, toll-free at 877-222-VETS(8387), Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. EST.6
7. Do I have to enroll in the VA health care system to receive medical benefits?
Typically, veterans must be enrolled in the VA health care system in order to receive medical benefits; however, if you meet one of the following requirements, you do not need to enroll:
- You have been determined by VA to be 50 percent or more disabled from service-connected conditions
- You are seeking care for a VA rated service-connected disability only
- It is less than one year since you were discharged for a disability that was service-connected, but VA has not yet rated the disability.6
8. How can I obtain a copy of my VA medical records?
In order to obtain personal copies of your VA medical records, you must contact the facilities in which you received care.7
9. How do I locate or contact my nearest VA facility?
Use the VA facilities locator to find any of the 1655 VA facilities. You can search by state, ZIP code or facility name. This tool provides links to your nearest facility and information about how to contact them.
10. What other kinds of benefits and services does VA provide?
VA provides a wide range of benefits and services, including: disability, education and training, vocational rehabilitation and employment, home loan guaranty, dependents’ and survivors’ benefits, medical treatment, life insurance and burial benefits.8 A brief overview of VA benefits and services can be found in the “Benefits in Brief” [PDF 34KB] factsheet. If you would like more information, you can also read VA’s “Benefits Booklet”.
11. Who do I contact if I have additional questions or concerns about VA?
You can get answers to VA benefits questions by dialing 1-800-827-1000. In addition, don’t hesitate to contact any of VA’s toll-free phone numbers for answers to a variety of your questions and concerns.
The DoD Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is an online portal hosted by the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Veterans Affairs which provides transition assistance planning tools to military personnel transitioning on and off of active duty. TAP offers a wide range of resources for transitioning service members, like benefits calculators, resume tools, job banks, compensation information, and pre-discharge assistance.
1"VETS Fact Sheet 1: Transition Assistance Program," U.S. Department of Labor. Last accessed Oct. 24, 2013.
2"Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents & Survivors" [PDF 2.77 KB], U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed Oct. 24, 2013.
3"Returning Service Members (OEF/OIF)," U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed Oct. 24, 2013.
4"VA Mental Health," U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed Oct. 24, 2013.
5"National Center for PTSD," U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed Oct. 24, 2013.
6"VA Health Benefits," U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed Oct. 24, 2013.
7"Inquiry Routing & Information System (IRIS)," U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed Oct. 24, 2013.
8"New to VA," U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed Oct. 24, 2013.