How to Get Health Insurance When Leaving the Military

What are your options for health insurance when leaving the military?

When you retire from the military, you will have a number of options when it comes to selecting your health insurance coverage. In this article we will discuss COBRA, TRICARE and Veterans Affairs benefits.

Am I eligible for COBRA?

When you separate from active duty service in the military, or if your spouse leaves service, you may be eligible for continuation coverage under a federal law known as COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). Under this legislation employers with at least 20 employees must offer their employees and their dependents the chance to continue their group health plan coverage after leaving employment. When picking up COBRA benefits, all terms and conditions of medical insurance apply including premiums and payments. Eligibility is based on length of service and certain reasons for departure from employment. If your ex-employer has fewer than 20 employees, you may be eligible for Temporary Continuation of Coverage (TCC). These benefits are usually available for up to 18 months but this period can vary widely among States. To learn more about COBRA and other types of coverage please refer to our article: What happens after I leave the military?

Will my family still be covered under TRICARE?

DoD’s TRICARE program offers health care options to uniformed service members and their families who qualify at little or no cost. Members with active duty status automatically qualify; those with reserve/guard status must enroll within 60 days of losing active duty status. For more information on eligibility and enrollment please refer to our article: TRICARE – “The health care program for the military and family members”

TRICARE is also available to veterans who qualify under Post-9/11 (OEF/OIF) and those with service connected disabilities from all eras, as well as dependents of veterans. In addition, certain individuals medically retired from active duty may be eligible for continued coverage, see DoD’s website for details.

For those who qualify for Veterans Affairs benefits but only need a supplemental insurance policy, you should investigate just what your VA plan covers. Many steps have been taken recently to improve coordination between the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Administration so that active service members and veterans receive the best possible medical treatment at little or no cost. For more information please refer to our article: Tricare vs Veterans Affairs (VA)

What is my veteran eligibility for health care?

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs offers comprehensive health care benefits to certain veterans with an authorized period of wartime service, who have received an other than dishonorable discharge and who meet one of the following requirements:

  • Have served on active duty in the Armed Forces, including service in the National Guard and Reserves components, for any amount of time during a war declared by Congress, or during a national emergency declared by Congress or the president;
  • Served at least 90 days of active duty during peacetime;
  • Were discharged or released from active duty because of a service-connected disability, OR
  • Have been continuously enrolled since August 1, 1973 in the same United States Uniformed Services plan.

Post 9/11 GI Bill

The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides education benefits for servicemembers who have served on active duty for 90 or more days after September 10, 2001. The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits. Also, it makes educational benefits available to certain spouses and dependents of veterans who are serving (or have served) on active duty during a war or other military operation or national emergency. To be eligible you must have served at least 30 continuous days on active duty beginning or ending during the period of 9/11 through September, 11th 2014. The Post 9/11 GI Bill also provides some reservists and National Guard members with benefits even if they only serve 4 years of continuous service. For more information please refer to our article: Everything you need to know about the Post-91st GI Bill

  • A one year commitment was not fulfilled for any reason other than death, disability (physical or mental), a bad conduct discharge, desertion, an uncharacterized service separation or due to hardship;


  • You are entitled to receive Transitional Health Care (TTHC) which is available for veterans who served on active duty during a war or other military operation or national emergency and received an honorable discharge.

Veterans who qualify for the TTHC receive the full amount of transitional health care benefits that would have been provided under TRICARE (i.e., TRICARE Prime). This means you will be eligible to enroll in any TRICARE plan and receive all benefits and fills for which you are entitled, at no cost to you through December 31, 2009. You must enroll within 2 years after separation from active duty unless:

  • You were separated due to death while serving on active duty;


  • You had service-connected disabilities that caused your condition prior to service;
  • Your medical condition prevents you from traveling to a VA health care facility;

Veterans who qualify for the TTHC are automatically be enrolled in TRICARE Prime Remote without having to take additional steps. This means that you will have no out of pocket costs for your eligible medications. In addition, these veterans do not need to enroll since they already have been automatically enrolled as part of their transitional health care coverage.

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