Both active-duty military members and veterans face a difficult set of circumstances when it comes to recovering from addiction and alcohol abuse. TRICARE, the military’s health insurance program, covers drug and alcohol addiction treatment at VA Medical Centers and private treatment facilities.
TRICARE is the worldwide health care program for active-duty and retired service members and their families. It is managed by the Defense Health Agency, under the leadership of the Assistant Secretary of Defense-Health Affairs.
Not all treatment centers accept TRICARE. Be sure to choose a drug or alcohol rehab that not only provides veterans-specific care but also allows you to use your TRICARE benefits to pay for treatment.
Substance Abuse and the Military
Addiction and mental health disorders in the military population are all too common. Here are some facts that might surprise you:
More than one out of every ten veterans have been diagnosed with substance use disorder. More than one-third of service personnel met the criteria for hazardous drinking or possible alcohol use disorder.
A study of approximately 600 veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan found that nearly 40% screened positive for probable alcohol abuse.
Because of their wartime experiences, many veterans and active-duty military personnel live with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health issues. These problems increase the military population’s vulnerability to substance use disorder, as both problems occur more frequently among those who have experienced traumatic events. Almost 1 in 3 veterans that seek treatment for substance abuse also have PTSD. Additionally, more than 46% of individuals with lifetime PTSD also met the criteria for substance use disorder.
Countless veterans also deal with pain from injuries that they sustained during combat. One study reported 65.5% of US military veterans reported pain in the previous 3 months, and 9.1% of those cases are classified as severe pain. Chronic pain leads many veterans and service members to start taking extremely addictive opioid painkillers.
With these unique challenges in mind, drug, and alcohol treatment for veterans aims to address the underlying issues of substance abuse disorder and help vets begin their recovery journey.
What is Wrong with Treatment at the VA?
While the VA does offer drug treatment for military and veterans, many prefer to get treatment outside of the VA system at a private treatment center.
Even though the VA is set up specifically for veterans, it has disadvantages. Many locations are overcrowded and operate on a waitlist. Even when care is available immediately, it’s difficult to get the individualized care and amenities that are available at a private treatment center.
TRICARE is unique because it enables the military and veteran population to seek treatment outside of the veterans' health system, where there are more options and access to individualized addiction care.
How is Veterans' Addiction Treatment Different?
Veterans' treatment utilizes standard therapy techniques used across the board in addiction treatment and then expands on these to address the specific challenges of those who served in the military.
It starts with a medical detox and stabilization to break the physical dependence on drugs and alcohol. Once the individual is stabilized, they receive a combination of group therapy, individualized counseling, and cognitive techniques that can help prevent relapse.
The heart of Veterans rehab also includes extra programming that focuses on healing from post-traumatic stress and re-integrating into civilian life. Career workshops, anger management, and family counseling are also available to help veterans readjust to life after combat. Therapists that treat veteran populations should have specialized training that helps them understand the complicated relationship between addiction and post-traumatic stress.
What Kind of Treatment Does TRICARE Cover?
TRICARE covers many types and levels of substance abuse treatment, including:
- Inpatient Hospital Visits
- Residential Addiction Treatment
- Intensive Outpatient (IOP)
- Medication-Assisted Treatment
- Partial Hospitalization Programs
- Mental Health Therapy
TRICARE initially approves 30 days of treatment, which means your covered for a full course of inpatient treatment. Since benefits and treatment length of stay are predetermined there are rarely surprises to coverage for treatment.
The History of TRICARE
Historically, health care for military personnel and their dependents was provided in military medical facilities, like the VA. Veterans can also see outside civilian doctors using their TRICARE insurance, with a referral from the VA. Specialists are available through a referral system by civilian medical practitioners in areas where military physicians weren’t available, or in instances of military medical facilities’ being overcrowded. Active duty military personnel always enjoy priority in military medical facilities.
In 1993, the Department of Defense announced plans for implementing a nationwide managed care program for active-duty military members, retired military, and their dependents. Under this program, known as TRICARE, the nation was divided into 12 healthcare regions. Since then, TRICARE has undergone several restructuring initiatives, including re-alignment of contract regions, Base Realignment, and Closure, and the addition of “TRICARE for Life” benefits and “TRICARE Reserve Select” benefits.
Using Your TRICARE Benefits for Drug & Alcohol Rehab
The first step is to find a center that specifically treats veterans and active-duty military. While many rehabs accommodate veterans, look for a facility that specifically mentions a specialized veteran’s program.
Working out the cost of addiction treatment shouldn’t be a worry when you are seeking help, especially for those who have served our country. The only expense typically extended to TRICARE members are any applicable co-pays or cost-share, if you have that type of TRICARE policy. Veterans that are struggling should explore every option when seeking treatment.
Dr. Brian Wind Ph.D. is a recognized leader in clinical psychology with over 15 years of experience. He’s co-chair of the American Psychological Association, adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University, and clinical executive at JourneyPure. JourneyPure is an addiction treatment center with 21 locations across the country all in-network with major insurance companies, including Tricare. JourneyPure is proud to treat military veterans with TRICARE and provides military-specific addiction and mental health treatment to those in need.