VA Health Care Eligibility

Many military veterans aren’t aware they are eligible for VA health care benefits. The common misconception is that veterans can only use VA medical care facilities if they have a service-connected disability rating. Veterans with a service-connected disability rating can use VA medical centers, but health care benefits aren’t only limited to those individuals. Let’s dispel some of the myths about VA health care eligibility, and see who is eligible, and learn how you can apply for VA health care benefits.

Two things to remember:  (1) This is only general information. Each case is unique, and final benefits decisions rest with the VA. (2) VA health care eligibility only means you can visit VA medical centers and clinics for health care. It does not necessarily mean all health care is 100% free (some medical care may be free, and cost is dependent upon many factors). There may be limitations on the type of health care you may be eligible for, and some medical care may require a co-pay or other associated cost, depending on the nature of your coverage and the medical care your receive.

How to Establish Eligibility for VA Medical Benefits

VA Health Care Eligibility RequimentsVA health care eligibility is based upon active duty military service in the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, or Merchant Marines (during WWII). Members of the National Guard and Reserves may be eligible for VA health care benefits if they were called to active duty on a Federal Executive Order (this generally excludes active duty for training purposes). Other groups of servicemembers may also be eligible for VA medical care.

Misconceptions about VA health care eligibility: It is not a requirement to have served in combat or in a war zone. You do not need a service-connected disability rating. You did not need to be injured or wounded while in the service.

VA health care eligibility factors: VA health care eligibility is based on many issues, including active duty military service, type of military discharge, service-connected disabilities, medical conditions incurred while in the service, location of service, and more. You can be eligible based on your service dates, deployments you served on, or other criteria.

VA Health Care Eligibility Questionnaire

Let’s start by looking at some basic eligibility requirements, based on the VA health care eligibility questionnaire:

1. Are any of these statements true?

  • You served in the active military, naval, or air service and were discharged or released with a rating of Honorable or General under Honorable Conditions
  • You were/are a Reservist or National Guard member and you were called to active duty by a Federal Order (for other than training purposes) and you completed the full call-up period

Veterans have the option of selecting yes or no.

If you answer yes, you will be taken to the following question: Are any of these statements true?

  • You were discharged or separated for medical reasons, early out, or hardship
  • You served in theater of combat operations within the past 5 years
  • You were discharged from the military because of a disability (not preexisting)
  • You are a former Prisoner of War
  • You received a Purple Heart Medal
  • You receive VA pension or disability benefits
  • You receive state Medicaid benefits
  • Served in the Republic of Vietnam from January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975
  • Served in the Persian Gulf from August 2, 1990 to November 11, 1998

If you answer Yes to the second question, you most likely qualify for VA health care. You can skip to the section below, labeled “Applying for VA Health Care Benefits.”

If you answer No to either of the two questions above, you may still be eligible for VA medical benefits based on criteria such as your military service or household income. You will need to submit an application for VA health care benefits to learn more based on your specific information.

Applying for VA Health Care Benefits

Once you have established your eligibility for VA health care benefits, you will need to fill out Form 10-10EZ or Form 10-10EZR to apply for benefits. These forms are also used to update your current information if anything has changed. There are several ways you can fill out or update the 10-10EZ: online, by phone, by mail, or in-person at a VA medical facility. Here is the info you need:

  • Online: Visit this link and fill out the form.
  • Phone: Call 1-877-222-VETS (8387), Mon-Fri, 8:00 am – 8:00 pm EST. A VA rep will send you a completed form via mail. You will need to verify and sign the form, then return it to the VA.
  • Mail: Complete Form 10-10EZ or Form 10-10EZR and mail it to Health Eligibility Center, 2957 Clairmont Road, Suite 200, Atlanta, GA 30329-1647.
  • In person: Visit any VA Medical Center or clinic. Here is the VA Directory.

Required Supporting Documentation

You can reduce the application processing time by providing information about your service when you apply. This includes documentation such as your DD-Form 214 or other military discharge paperwork, service records that indicate you were a POW or received a Purple Heart, or records that show you received hostile fire or imminent danger pay or a combat medal.

VA Health Care Enrollment

Applying with for 10-10EZ and providing all relevant information will generally enroll you into the VA medical care system. Most veterans will automatically remain enrolled in the system from year to year. However, some veterans will need to establish eligibility each year to maintain their enrollment priority. This is generally the case for veterans who qualify for VA medical care based on their income or other information that can change from year to year. Other veterans may be eligible based on returning from a combat zone within the last five years. Enrollment priority may change based on the date they returned from the combat zone.The VA will contact you when they need additional information to maintain your enrollment priority.

VA Identification Card

va id card - how to get a veterans affairs card

Sample VA ID Card

Veterans who are eligible for VA health care are also eligible to receive a Veterans Identification Card which is used to access VA medical care. These cards have a designation on them indicating a service-connected disability, Purple Heart, or former POW status if applicable. The only official use of the card is to receive medical care at VA Medical Facilities, but many veterans also like to show this card as proof of military service if they no longer have a military ID or do not have a state issued ID card with a veterans designation. This card is only available to veterans who are eligible for VA medical care.

Eligible veterans can apply for a VA ID Card at any VA medical facility. They must fill out the 10-10EZ and have their picture taken. The VA then verifies eligibility and sends out the card within 7-10 business days.

Photo source: WikiMedia Commons

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Date published: December 3, 2012. Last updated: March 6, 2014.

Article by

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.


  1. Can I also get medical benefits for my family

  2. My friend served in WWII from 1944-1946 when he was discharged. Is he eligible for a VA ID card?

    • The VA handles each case individually. Your friend will need to contact the VA and apply for benefits. Depending on your friend’s income, he may also be eligible for the Veterans Pension, or Aid and Attendance Benefit, which provides care for low income, elderly veterans. The application and approval process for the Aid and Attendance Benefit is more complicated and it is recommended to have an expert help with the application.

  3. I served in the peace era so I am not a veteran, from 1978 to 1981, so I can’t get benefits.

    • BigGuy, you are still a veteran if you served in peace time. Whether or not you are eligible for benefits depends on many factors – the only way to know for sure is to contact the VA. They will be able to give you more information and process your application if you decide to apply.

  4. James L. Chester says:

    I served from July 1959- July 1963. I’m an Atomic Veteran. Can I get VA medical care? My household income in $24,000. annually.

  5. Harold Marsh says:

    I was discharged from the Army to take care of a family hardship. I will be contacting VA to see if I am eligible for benefits.

    Thank you for this website, it is a great source of information for veterans.

  6. Mark Gouveia says:

    I was Honorably Discharged 8 months before my contract expired due to being overweight. Am I still eligible for VA benefits?

  7. Here’s a question for you….I went to the VA Hospital today and they said had I signed up when I got out of the Air Force I would have been grandfathered in. It doesn’t seem fair that I can’t sign up now for a program I had been eligible for at one time. If you are grandfathered in, it should be by the date those specifications were in place. Have you heard of this before? Just doesn’t seem fair!


    • Monica, This is one I haven’t heard of before. I would ask them to explain this in more detail since it seems like they only gave you part of the story. This may have to do with the dates you separated from the service or something else. unfortunately, the only people who can give you a definitive answer are the VA personnel.

  8. Just wanted to touch base and let you know what happened. President Bush at one time said all Veterans are eligible to receive a Veteran’s ID Card that gives them the hospital benefits. Well, it was only a 5 year period and expired years ago. Unfortunately, many Veteran’s did not know about the program (including me) and lost out. Now there is a salary limit and other ways you have to qualify.

  9. Ryan,

    I’m a 31 year old Iraq/Afghanistan veteran who is 140% (100%) paid service connected veteran. My fiancé filed for the VA’s family caregiver support program because of my many TBI’s and PTSD and got approved at tier 1 level. She left her job and lost her health insurance and now needing to see a doctor. I worked as a case analyst for the VA regional office and know the system well, but she qualifies for CHAMPVA, is she auto-enrolled or does she need to apply for coverage?



  10. Clay Jackson says:

    I served for 26 years active and reserves and when I applied for medical benefits, I was denied at Roanoke, VA. Older Vets just don’t count as much as newer ones, I guess.

  11. Dennis C. Arterburn says:

    I am a Vietnam Era 1968-1972 . When I received my Navy discharge physical exam, it was noted that I had a heart murmur. Could or would this be significant in applying for medical care. I am now 63 years old and receive Social Security.

    When requesting service records are medical records included ?


    • I do not know for certain if medical records are included. You will need to contact the National Archives for more information. Here are instructions for obtaining your military records.

      Regarding the significance of the heart murmur: right now it’s impossible to say, but it’s always better to have it documented and in the system, just in case. You may find that it gives you access to health care. I wish you the best with your health.

  12. Is it true that if I haven’t used my VA medical benefits in over 24 months that I lose my benefit eligibility?

    • No, you shouldn’t lose your eligibility, but you may be inactive in the system. My recommendation is to call the VA and set up an appointment with them to make sure you remain in their system. The VA likes to keep everything up to date. You can expect to visit with a doctor for a few minutes and have all your vitals taken by a nurse (blood pressure, height, weight, etc.). The doctor will inquire as to any changes to your medical conditions since your last visit. If everything is fine, you can request another general exam in a year or so, just so you remain in the system. If there are any problems, then you should try to schedule an exam at that time (if the conditions are covered by the VA for your situation). I hope this helps!

  13. Clayton Jackson says:

    I applied for medical and even though I worked a part time job, they said that I made too much and I was denied.

    • Clayton, the rules depend on how much money you make. If you only recently started working a part time job after earning more money last year, then you may qualify now (the form usually requests the previous year’s income). If you are over the threshold, then you may not be eligible for VA health care benefits unless you qualify for another reason, such as a medical condition that stems from your time in the service, or if you recently separated after serving in a contingency location. Your best bet is to meet with a VA benefits counselor to determine your benefits eligibility, including health care, education, training, VA Loans, and other benefits. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  14. New Vets should know that like me and 10’s of thousands who served honorably (6yrs) with no such limits on medical support when I vol. later limits were put on to lock many of us out. Changed the rules, dishonest, FACT!! I own my house, being punished for my hard work of 40yrs. Served 1970- 1976.

  15. my buddy just received a 10% rating from the va we are going to appeal the other denial but what medical benefits can he receive at this rating.

    • Lloyd, Thank you for contacting me. It’s difficult to answer that question without having more information. Typically at 10%, a veteran is eligible to have health care related to the medical condition for which he/she has a disability rating, and possibly additional health care coverage, depending on when and where they served, when they got of the military, income level, and several other factors. In short, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The best way to understand one’s benefits is to go to the VA for a benefits overview meeting. A VA representative will sit down with the veteran and explain all the benefits the veteran is eligible to receive. They usually offer some forms of pamphlets and other information. The veteran should also receive an explanation of benefits letter in the mail, but these aren’t always the easiest to understand.

      Another option is to visit a Veterans Service Organization for a benefits overview. Many service organizations have trained benefits counselors who offer free benefits claims assistance and who are also able to help the veteran understand the available benefits and how to apply for and use them. I hope this points you in the right direction. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

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