For the over 19 million Americans who served in the armed forces, accessing health care benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can be a confusing process at times. If you think you are eligible for these benefits, review the information below to find out how to apply. You can also download and print this pocket guide that contains information on obtaining VA health care benefits.
AARP Veterans Health Benefits Navigator 2.0
Enrolling in a health care plan can be a grueling process, especially when it comes to finding the right information and knowing where to turn for assistance. This is particularly true when it comes to accessing veterans health benefits. Never assume your eligibility until you’ve made a full inquiry with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or the Department of Defense (DoD).
This free online tool will help you:
- Learn more about health benefits provided through the VA and DoD.
- Understand how to apply and enroll in VA health care.
- Expand your health care options with Medicare and Medicaid.
- Identify how to get help from representatives who have experience and knowledge of the VA’s benefits process.
- Access VA specialty care programs such as the Women Veterans Health Care Program, the Family Caregiver Assistance Program as well as mental, dental, oral, hearing and vision services.
Three paths to VA health care
Even if you didn't serve in an active military position you may still be eligible for VA health benefits as long as you did not receive a dishonorable discharge. For all veterans, VA health care can be obtained through three different paths:
- Disability status: those with a service-connected injury, illness or disability incurred during or aggravated by military service,
- Service history: recipients of a Purple Heart, a Medal of Honor, or former prisoner of war,
- Income need: those with an income below a certain level defined by the VA.
Keep in mind eligibility for VA benefits can change over time based off of funding received from Congress and the department's priorities. When possible, enroll in both Medicare and VA health care to secure your best options.
Path 1: Disability Status
If you have a service-connected injury or illness, you can first seek disability compensation based on your condition. The VA pays a tax-free monthly payment to veterans who were sick or injured while serving in the military and to veterans whose service made an existing condition worse. Disability payments are made for physical (such as chronic illness or injury) and mental health conditions (such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD) that developed before, during or after service. Once qualified for disability pay, gaining health care benefits is much simpler.
To qualify you must have served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training and have a VA disability rating for your condition. These ratings are assigned after receiving a disability exam, also called a compensation and pension exam. The staff at your local VA medical center or local doctor's office that is partnered with the VA will contact you to schedule an exam.