service member standing outside

Plan Your Transition With Health Care as Your Priority

Each year, approximately 200,000 active duty Service members transition from military to civilian life. The process involves many decisions about all areas of life including career choices, deciding where to live, maintaining your health, and discovering all the benefits and tools available to you because of your service. The more you learn and the better you plan, the smoother your transition will be. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is an outcome-based program that supports and educates Service members, military spouses, and caregivers during transition. Service members begin TAP one year prior to separation or two years prior to retiring.

doctor talking to patient

VA’s portion of TAP is a course called VA Benefits and Services. The course is part of the required TAP curriculum for transitioning and retiring Service members. It helps you understand how to navigate VA and the benefits and services you’ve earned through your military career. Through interactive exercises using real examples, it covers important topics such as family support, disability compensation, education, and health care benefits. Veterans can search for VA Benefits and Services courses offered in person at a military installation near them or complete the course online. 

Getting Started With VA Health Care

Whether you are separating from active duty or retiring, making sure your health care needs are covered is essential for you and your family. VA operates the largest integrated health care system in the nation including more than 1,200 facilities. While preparing for transition, you can apply for VA health care benefits before the completion of your service. If VA determines you are eligible, you will be enrolled once you have separated or retired.

Determine Your Eligibility

According to VA eligibility guidelines, you may be eligible for VA health care benefits if you served in the active military, naval, or air service and didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge.

  • If you enlisted after Sept. 7, 1980, or entered active duty after Oct. 16, 1981, you must have served 24 continuous months or the full period for which you were called to active duty, unless any of the descriptions below are true for you.
    This minimum duty requirement may not apply if any of these are true:

    • You were discharged for a disability that was caused or made worse by your active-duty service.
    • You were discharged for a hardship or “early out.”
    • You served prior to Sept. 7, 1980.
  • If you are a current or former member of the reserves or National Guard, you must have been called to active duty by a federal order and completed the full period for which you were called or ordered to active duty. If you had or have active duty status for training purposes only, you don’t qualify for VA health care.

You can apply for VA health care online, by phone, by mail or in person. Under certain circumstances, spouses, dependents and family caregivers of Veterans may be eligible for health care coverage through one of several government programs. Otherwise, VA recommends purchasing health care coverage for family members through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace.

Maintaining Your Physical and Mental Health

Whether you are separating from active duty or retiring, making sure your health care needs are covered is essential for you and your family.

VA takes a modern approach to health care with a focus on whole health, providing a full range of health care services including:

  • Regular check-up appointments with specialists like cardiologists, gynecologists and mental health providers
  • Veteran health care services like home health and elder care
  • Medical equipment, prosthetics and prescriptions
  • Specialty programs tailored to women’s health care, complex care coordination, dental care, transition care and more

No Two Transitions Are the Same

The circumstances surrounding you, your family, and your health are uniquely yours. As you plan your transition, you will be establishing many personal goals and priorities. Put your health and well-being at the top of that priority list, and you’ll be off to a great start.

The VA website offers a wide range of information and resources to guide you through health care options as you transition to Veteran status:

  • If you qualify for VA health care, these are the services and care VA provides.
  • Find out how to access VA mental health services. Some of these services are available even if you are not enrolled in VA health care.
  • Learn about certain health conditions Veterans may experience related to their specific time and place of service.
  • Discover if you are eligible for disability compensation for an illness or injury that was caused by or got worse because of your active military service.

For more information about benefits and how to apply, call VA Health Benefits toll-free hotline at 877-222-8387, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. EST.

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