Tricare Counseling Options: What You Need To Know

By Patricia Oelze|Updated May 25, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Elizabeth Strong, LMHC

Everyone needs health care. It can be argued that people in the military and their families need it more than most, due to the danger and stress that accompanies military life. Online counseling is one great option, but there is a specific health care choice for these individuals, called Tricare. It provides not only mental health care but things such as dental plans, health care places, and prescriptions. While this sounds wonderful, it is not without its issues, much like most other health care plans. Military personnel and their families have still had to deal with high co-pays, long waits, and reduced coverage. As these individuals sacrifice so much and put their lives on the line for the sake of their country, you'd think receiving care would not be that difficult.

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Thankfully, last year, they expanded their benefits to cover dependents for access to mental health and substance disorders. These major changes were welcomed- being able to ensure that non-active beneficiaries could pay lower copayments meant they would have greater access to mental health care. Removing the limits was touted as a step forward in de-stigmatizing mental health. The changes also meant that many who needed treatment were now able to receive care based on necessity, rather than coming up against imposed limits. To have their needs met and were still covered under their insurance would be a huge step forward. These sweeping changes are still being rolled out and most have only just come into effect for healthcare providers. But in a military climate that is all about streamlining and efficiency, is the expansion working?

What Is Covered?

It's no secret that the instances of substance abuse and mental health cases are on the rise. With heightened security risks comes even more stress on families, especially those in the military. Part of being in a military family means living with civilian stressors in addition to the many other stressors that accompany military life. Many families are separated from those serving or living somewhere without support because they have moved so often, which tends to be the case for military families. Isolation and loneliness can lead to a greater risk of the adverse effects of long-term stress(most of which are related to behavioral health and mental health), in addition to situational depression and acute anxiety, among many other mental health concerns.

Any change is a good chance here. That's why the Tricare expansion could potentially be a game-changer in the lives of many. For example, while before, someone with substance use disorder could only expect a maximum of 3 treatments from Tricare, now there's the potential for a lifetime of care, and with lower co-pays. The coverage of previously uncovered mental health concerns could lead to great strides in not only the military community but also the rest of the country, as people do not live in bubbles and so one person's issue is likely to affect those around him or her. If everyone was able to live their best, most healthy life, wouldn't that have a huge impact on the country at large? One would think so!

In regards to medications or supplements, different products and ingredients will be covered differently. Your use of the product, as well as the impact on your body or more will influence this coverage.

In looking at the expansion more closely, the primary focus of these changes is on substance abuse and gender dysphoria. There's a reason for this, as these often subjects people deal with that need to be handled delicately and within a longer timeframe. With the Tricare expansion, they will have access to such longer-term care and be better able to get their needs met. Previously, only very basic mental health access was already part of Tricare, and often only short-term, brief counseling was available. This meant that people who needed ongoing help were out of luck. Though dependents were already covered for needs like marriage counseling services and stress from deployments, not much else was covered. Other issues arise for people that need to be addressed in a way that improves upon the original model.

Is It Enough?

No matter what program or changes are likely made, there will never be enough care or too-low co-pays. These things are always in flux depending on the needs of the time. Right now, we're seeing heightened stress because of terrorism and that's putting a greater strain on families, therefore, putting more patients into care. Should the threat decrease it's likely that the number of patients receiving support would too, thereby lowering the need for mental health care. The biggest issue right now is access. Not all departments have enacted the changes and so not all departments can provide the care and support necessary for those not on active duty. And how is it determined which department gets expanded first? This can be a tricky issue, as it depends upon so many different factors- availability of care providers, the ability of those in place to handle the volume of patients, available resources, etc. As you can see, it is often not just one thing that holds up a movement.

Subcontracting

At this point, if you go on Tricare's site, their additional information portal (for those not listed as active duty service members and covered in one of the listed programs) still sends you to search criteria for outside information. Tricare's site tells you to look elsewhere! While it's great that they're moving toward making changes, many people don't know about these changes and improvements and have no way to know they're covered. It's not helpful to cover people if they don't even know if they are covered or how to find any information about their coverage! And many refuse to reach out because they don't want a diagnosis that comes with a costly bill that Tricare won't cover.

So, are these changes successful? It's still too early to tell since they are still being implemented, but frankly, since it seems to be a well-kept secret that changes are even happening at all, the answer may have to be no. How can change be successful if no one has noticed a difference? That's not changed. Not even changing their information on the website shows a lack of priority and thus importance, in addition to a lack of duty to care for dependents with mental health and addiction issues.

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Next Steps

In reality, it may simply be better to do your research and find your mental health specialist and find out if they take Tricare, rather than hoping to find one through the military facilities- especially if you want fast-tracked care. BetterHelp is also a great alternative, one that can meet your immediate needs and get you on that fast track toward better mental well-being. There are thousands of counselors available to address your needs and many affordable and convenient options to get you started.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Tricare

Does TRICARE pay for BetterHelp?

While BetterHelp does not offer insurance, you may be able to submit a BetterHelp invoice for partial or full reimbursement by TRICARE, though this would likely fall under the category of "out-of-range" services, so they're not guaranteed to be covered. You can use TRICARE For Life as long as you have both Medicare Parts A and B, as it serves as a Medicare advantage in regards to coinsurance and insurance companies.

Is BetterHelp free for the military?

Veterans' mental health is an important issue for BetterHelp. Veterans are entitled to one month of free therapy via BetterHelp, without premiums or deductible expenses. 

Does TRICARE pay for Talkspace?

TRICARE offers in-network mental health benefits, but you'll have to check with your provider to find the details of what's covered under your plan, such as a telemedicine benefit. 

Does TRICARE cover teletherapy?

Yes, the TRICARE website states it covers teletherapy, or online therapy, with the same coverage offered towards in-office or in-person therapy. This can be especially helpful for military personnel or families who live on base, in remote areas or have limited transportation or scheduling options. 

How many therapy sessions does Tricare cover?

TRICARE covers up to two 60-minute sessions per week, though the level of care and length of treatment depends on the mental illness and other determining factors. TRICARE also covers family member therapy and group therapy sessions, residential treatment, emergency treatment, outpatient care, and medication.

Can military members go to therapy?

Anyone can go to therapy, and military members face unique stressors, life transitions, and challenges that can be supported by therapy. There are lots of resources that provide therapy services for military members and their families. A primary physician doctor might recommend therapy depending on symptoms, mind and mental health states.

Will the military pay for a licensed therapist?

There are many options to receive free mental health services as an active-duty member or veteran of the military. Some options are Military One Source, TRICARE, Military & Family Life Consultants. Teleheath and video appointments can benefit family members, and often health insurance might help cover your mental health network and appointment or eligibility. Authorization of who falls under your coverage depends on the network, as retirees through tricare prime might have a different result than someone on Military One Source.

Is BetterHelp worth it?

Pursuing counseling treatment in seek of better health overall is always worth it. BetterHelp's online therapy services are affordable remote options for support for many mental illnesses and common challenges.

Does TRICARE reimburse for therapy?

Many TRICARE plans offer therapy, though the exact details of coverage will depend on your insurance plan. You can find out more from your primary care manager or TRICARE team member.

What doesn't TRICARE cover?

Generally, TRICARE is meant to cover health care costs and does not cover supplies, equipment, or services that are not medically required.

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