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What the Recruiter Never Told You
Part 11: Medical Care
 More of this Feature
• 1-Getting Started
• 2-Meeting the Recruiter
• 3-Enlistment Processing
• 4-Enlistment Goodies
• 5-Base Pay & Housing
• 6-Meals
• 7-Special & Incentive Pays
• 8-More Enlistment Goodies
• 9-Commissaries & Exchanges
• 10-MWR
 Join the Discussion
What the Recruiter Never Told You
 Related Resources
• Enlisted Jobs
• Surviving Boot Camp
• Military Pay Charts
• Books About the ASVAB
• Books for Joining the Military
 Elsewhere on the Web
• Joining the Air Force
• Joining the Army
• Joining the Navy
• Joining the Marines
• Joining the Coast Guard

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.

While military retired members must pay for a portion of their health care costs, for most active duty members, and their family, Tricare is free. For more details about the military health care system, see our feature article, Military Medical Care, Explained.

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