No, Veterans Don’t Get Free Healthcare

On Wednesdays I will be trying to write about something obvious to us veterans that civilians don’t fully understand.  Today, since my shoulder hurts, let’s chat about healthcare.

Contrary to memes on Facebook or emails from questionable email addresses, no, being a veteran does not entitle you to free healthcare for life.

Of course there are stipulations and considerations, and of course some of you are already arguing with me.  But, let me finish.

Simply joining and exiting the military does provide you certain benefits.  Depending on how long you’ve served, and where, you may get more benefits than other veterans.  A veteran that served 30 days gets different benefits than someone who served three years.  And of course, combat veterans get other considerations that non-combat veterans are not entitled to.

Confused yet?  So are vets.

But here’s the important one.  Unless you’re retired at 20 years (or more if you’re Guard or Reserve…more confusion) then you don’t automatically get healthcare.  With one stipulation though.

If you incurred a disabling condition while serving in the military, or your service in the military aggravated a pre-existing condition that resulted in a disabling condition, you may receive VA health benefits.

Now, what does that all mean?  Basically, if you got hurt or broke while in the military, they’ll cover that.  Broke your left foot jumping out of an airplane?  Then later on in life if you have left foot problems, the VA can help you with that.  But not your right foot.  Because your right foot is not service-connected.

That phrase, service-connected, is the bane of some veterans’ existence.  A paratrooper breaking their foot during a training mission, well that’s obviously service-connected.  But there are more complex things.  What about sleep apnea?  The CPAP machines are very expensive, and sleep apnea is a common condition among veterans.  It’s believed that the stress and constant night-shifts cause apnea, but it’s really hard to prove that the military actually caused it.

For me, I was a linguist for years.  I had headphones on, the old school metal “cans”, and listened to stuff all the time.  Often, I listened to static.  And occasionally, when our jammer aircraft would fly over a target area and jam a range of frequencies I was listening to, I would get blasted in one or both ears with a godawful noise.  Now, I have Meniere’s Disease, an innear ear condition that for me is completely debilitating.  How do I prove this is service-connected?

Well, it took me six years of fighting with the VA.  Thankfully, the symptoms began when I was still in the military, and I had the medical records and hospital visits to prove it.  But it still took six years and my Congressman’s involvement to get the rating that I was supposed to get.  I am now rated at 100% disability by the VA, which means they will cover me for any health issues, not just the Meniere’s Disease.

So, for me I do get free healthcare as a veteran.  But, I also get a completely debilitating disease along with it that affects me every day.  Not exactly free.  That veteran with 40% because he was shot in the ass in Iraq?  Yes, he gets healthcare for his ass, but again, he was shot.  How about the sailor that accidentally was hit by the launcher catapult on an aircraft carrier?  Yes, she gets free healthcare for her list of issues, but she also has a list of issues.  So, in a sense, it’s not free healthcare.  It’s the military taking care of their veterans who have injuries from their military duty.

And that seems to be fair.  Until the VA gets in the way, but we’ll talk about that next week.


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