In many ways, it seems like only yesterday that I made the decision to take off my uniform and make the leap from military life to the civilian world. While I remember it being an exciting time, I also felt a little uncertain about the road ahead and needed some answers... For starters, many of the benefits I took for granted on active duty now fell squarely in my lap – like health insurance. What was I going to do about that?
If you’re separating from service but not retiring, the health care you may have griped about -- but was always there -- becomes a thing of the past. Health insurance will now become your responsibility and with it will come some significant financial implications. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the shock I felt when I learned that under my new civilian health insurance, having a child was going to cost us $2,200. And that was 16 years ago!
I was lucky enough to transition from the military directly to a job in corporate America that came with fairly robust health-care coverage (the previously mentioned $2,200 childbirth expense notwithstanding.) But that’s not always the case, especially in today’s challenging job market. To help ease your transition, let’s look at what the military makes available as you shift to civilian life:
Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP).
This program is only available if you meet certain conditions – for example, if you join the Guard or Reserve or were involuntarily retained or separated. If you’re eligible, TAMP will provide you with TRICARE coverage for 180 days following your departure from active duty. If you’re in a TRICARE Prime service area, you may be able to enroll, otherwise, you’ll be covered under TRICARE Standard. The TRICARE website provides a complete rundown of the coverage and costs, but they are the same as for active-duty family members. This bridge coverage may be all you’ll need until you get hooked up with a new plan under your post-military employer.
Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP)
If you’re not eligible for TAMP and haven’t found coverage through a new employer, CHCBP can provide 18 months of coverage (in some cases up to 36 months.) You have to enroll within 60 days of losing entitlement to either TRICARE or TAMP. However, the BIG difference is that you pay for this coverage.
For 2014, the cost is $1,193 per quarter for individuals and $2,682 per quarter for families. That’s a significant expense to weave into your budget. The coverage is similar to TRICARE Standard, so in addition to the monthly premium, you could also have expenses associated with the care you receive.
TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS).
Those who decide to continue to serve in the National Guard or Reserve may take advantage of TRS. For only $51.68 per month (or $204.29 for a family) you can purchase coverage similar to TRICARE Standard. That’s a really good deal while you’re serving in the Guard or Reserve and is certainly something to consider as you weigh continued service.
Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Benefits
Finally, you may choose to use the VA for health care benefits. Generally, the VA will only provide care for the service member. The VA prioritizes care based on a number of factors including financial need. To take advantage of VA benefits you must apply. For five years following separation, combat veterans can receive enhanced eligibility and care for conditions related to their in-theater service.
In the end, leaving the military can be an exciting time, but don’t get so caught up in the excitement (or overwhelmed!) that you lose sight of some important details. When it comes to health care there’s only one non-negotiable: protecting you and your family.
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