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What the Recruiter Never Told You

Part 12 -- Military Medical and Dental Care

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Continued from Part 11

If the recruiter promises you free health care for life, turn around and run (or find another recruiter).

Seriously, up until the mid 1980s, recruiters were promising just that. It wasn't their fault -- up until that time there was free health care for life. Any military retiree, and their immediate families, could get care (space available) at any military medical facility. That law hasn't really changed. What has changed is the "space availability" of health care.

As a result of down-sizing, 35 percent of the military hospitals that existed in the United States in 1987 are closed today. Several dozen others have cut services. The number of doctors, nurses and medical technicians in military service has declined along with the number of other service members.

Despite this, the total number of people seeking health care through the military’s health care system has dropped only slightly.

Slowly, but steadily, military retirees, their families, and many active duty family members, were forced to seek medical care off-base, with only partial reimbursement from a program called CHAMPUS (Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services). Those who could still receive care through the military medical facilities found that even urgent care appointments were taking weeks -- if not months -- to obtain.

Let me say right from the start: The current military health care system (Tricare) is not bad when compared to most civilian health care plans. We have a health care cost crisis in this country, and Tricare is certainly one of the least expensive plans available anywhere. However, many military veterans and retirees are understandably upset with the provisions of Tricare for two primary reasons:

  1. They feel they were promised FREE health care for life in exchange for a minimum commitment of 20 years. Veterans believed this promise, and put up with dismal work/living conditions and low pay in order to win this compensation. Many retirees and veterans feel that their Government lied to them.

  2. Up until this year, retirees completely lost their Tricare benefits when they become eligible for Medicare. A new law now allows Medicare eligible retirees to use Tricare to pay any costs not covered by Medicare. To use this benefit, retirees must be enrolled in the Medicare "Part B" plan.
Active duty military members and their dependents receive free medical care, under the Provision of Tricare known as "Tricare Prime." This works kind of like an HMO. The member (and his/her dependents) are assigned to a "Primary Care Provider," which is usually (but not always) the base hospital. The Primary Care Provider takes care of their medical needs, and makes authorized referrals to specialists when they don't have the capability to handle the problem.

Guard and Reserve. Members of the Guard and Reserve (and their dependents) can use any of the Tricare Options anytime the member is called to active duty for more than 30 days. Use of Tricare Prime is free, as it is with active duty family members. Health coverage is also provided up to 90 days prior to activation for servicemembers who receive a 'delayed-effective-date' order. The coverage lasts until 180 days following their activation. After that 180 day "transition" period, following activation, Guard and Reserve members can purchase special Health Care Coverage under the Tricare Reserve Select program, if they were activated for a contingency operation for 90 days or more.

Dental care is free to active duty members and to members of the Guard/Reserve who are on active duty, but not free to non-mobilized Guard/Reserve members or military dependents. However, the services have a family dental plan which -- for just a few bucks a month -- gives dental insurance coverage to military family members and non-mobilized members of the Guard/Reserves (and their families).

For more details about the military health care system, see our feature article, Military Medical Care, Explained.

Continued in Part 13 - Commissaries and Exchanges

Other Parts to this Series:

  • Part 1 -- Choosing a Military Service
  • Part 2 -- Meeting the Recruiter
  • Part 3 -- The Enlistment Process and Job Selection
  • Part 4 -- Enlistment Contracts and Enlistment Incentives
  • Part 5 -- Military Pay
  • Part 6 -- Housing, Housing Allowance, and Barracks
  • Part 7 -- Chow Halls and Food Allowance
  • Part 8 -- Education Programs
  • Part 9 -- Leave (Vacation), and Job Training
  • Part 10 -- Assignments
  • Part 11 -- Promotions
  • Part 13 -- Commissaries and Exchanges
  • Part 14 -- Morale, Welfare, & Recreation (MWR) Activities

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