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Active-duty service members and VA health care

If you’re serving on active duty, including as a returning OEF/OIF/OND service member, find out how to apply for VA health care once you’ve received your separation or retirement orders. Your eligibility for VA health care and other health care coverage depends on your service history and other factors.

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Enhanced eligibility for returning OEF/OIF/OND combat Veterans

You can receive free VA health care for up to 10 years after discharge or release for any condition related to your service in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation New Dawn (OND) in Iraq. This is called an enhanced eligibility period.

We encourage you to apply right away

If you wait to apply for VA health care until after your enhanced eligibility period ends, we won’t factor your OEF/OIF/OND combat Veteran status into our decision on your enrollment. Instead, we’ll base your eligibility on factors such as your income and VA disability rating. So even if you don’t think you need medical care right now, we encourage you to apply for VA health care right away to take advantage of this enhanced eligibility period. 

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Eligibility requirements

You may qualify for enhanced eligibility if you meet all of these requirements.

All of these must be true:

  • You served in a theater of combat operations after November 11, 1998, and
  • You were discharged or released from active service on or after January 29, 2003, and
  • You didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge

We’ll use the documents listed below to determine your service in a theater of combat operations:

  • Military service documentation that reflects service in a combat theater, or
  • Receipt of combat service medals, or
  • Receipt of combat tax exemption, imminent danger, or hostile fire pay

Benefits of enhanced eligibility

If you qualify for enhanced eligibility as an OEF/OIF/OND combat Veteran:

  • We’ll enroll you right away. We’ll assign you to priority group 6, unless you qualify for a higher priority group based on your income or a service-connected disability. 
    Learn more about priority groups
  • You’ll receive free care and medications for any condition that may be related to your combat service. You may need to pay copays for care and medications that we determine are clearly not related to your military service, but you can submit your income as part of your application to apply for a copay exemption. 
    Learn more about how we determine your health care costs 
    Review current copay rates
  • You’ll stay enrolled in VA health care even after your OEF/OIF/OND enhanced eligibility period ends. We’ll reassign you to the highest priority group you qualify for at that time.

Eligibility for VA dental care

You may be eligible for one-time dental care for any needed conditions. Be sure to apply within 180 days of discharge or separation. You may also qualify for VA dental care based on other factors. 
Find out if you may be eligible for VA dental care

Eligibility after separation

If you're a Veteran who's recently separated from active duty, including active National Guard or Reserve duty, you may be eligible for VA health care for all or some of your health care needs. We’ll determine your eligibility based on your service history, VA disability rating, income, and other factors. If you had active-duty status for training purposes only, you don’t qualify for VA health care.
Learn more about VA health care eligibility 

Find out how to apply for VA health care

You and your family may also qualify for temporary health coverage through the Department of Defense’s TRICARE program. If you’re a member of the National Guard and Reserve, your coverage options will depend on your military status before you separate. You’ll have 90 days from your separation date to change your health plan.

Learn about how to enroll for temporary TRICARE coverage after separation on the TRICARE website

Eligibility after retirement

You may be eligible for the Department of Defense’s TRICARE program as a military retiree. Your family members may also qualify for care. You’ll need to enroll within 90 days after your retirement date even if you’re already enrolled in TRICARE on active duty.

Learn about how to enroll in TRICARE as a military retiree on the TRICARE website

You may also be eligible for certain VA health care benefits.
Learn more about VA health care eligibility 

Find out how to apply for VA health care

If you’re being medically retired from active duty

You may be eligible to receive care through VA for any service-connected disabilities. You may also qualify to receive all other care through TRICARE. Your eligible family members may also qualify for care through TRICARE.

To learn more about your options, talk with a VA benefits counselor. Your counselor will help you determine what your military and VA medical board ratings mean and how they affect your options. Your counselor will also help you apply for benefits.

Call our health benefits hotline at 877-222-8387 to connect with a benefits counselor. If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 800-877-8339. We’re here Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET. Or contact your nearest VA medical center. 
Find a VA medical center near you

Getting started with VA health care

Can I apply for VA health care before I’ve ended my service?

Yes. You can apply as soon as you’ve received your separation or retirement papers. If we determine you’re eligible, you’ll be enrolled once you’ve separated or retired.

Can I use VA health care while I’m still on active duty?

You may be able to use VA health care if:

  • You need emergency or urgent care. We’ll provide care first, and then get TRICARE authorization for care once we’ve stabilized your health. 
  • You need routine care and you have a valid TRICARE referral or authorization.
  • The VA health facility you’re visiting has a VA/DoD sharing agreement that allows us to provide care without referrals. For more information about this, please contact your local military hospital or clinic (also called a military treatment facility) or TRICARE office. 
    Find a military treatment facility 

    Contact TRICARE

What if I’ve just separated and I don’t know where to start?

We can help you learn about and apply for VA health care benefits. A member of our Concierge for Care (C4C) team will call you soon after your separation from military service. We can answer any questions you may have, process your application over the phone, and help you schedule your first VA medical appointment.