Free and Low-Cost Counseling for Veterans: VA and Non-Profit Options
Mental health care is important for everyone, but it’s especially important if you’re a veteran or active member of the military.
Many members of the military experience traumatic events, and trauma can have a huge negative impact on your quality of life if it goes untreated. Fortunately, in the last few decades, there’s been a huge improvement in trauma-informed health care. There are now many evidence-based therapy methods for trauma that make it possible to recover and enjoy your life to the fullest.
Marriage Counseling for Veterans
We’ve got a whole other article on marriage counseling for veterans and active-duty military members. It features extensive listings and information about how to get free or affordable couples counseling if you are or were in the military. You can click here to read it.
But even if you haven’t experienced war (or other kinds of) trauma, you can benefit from addressing your mental health. Being in the military—or readjusting to civilian life after serving—can put a lot of stress on your relationships. It can also affect your life in countless other ways.
The good news is that there are many free or affordable mental health resources for veterans and active-duty military members—including many options outside of the VA.
Read on to learn how you can get affordable care if you’ve served our country.
Counseling for Active-Duty Military
Special counseling options are available if you’re an active-duty service member or a veteran who’s been discharged from the military in the last year. (These options are also available to your family members.)
Active-duty service members can receive counseling services from several additional sources as well. Installation chaplains provide pastoral counseling at military bases. Combat stress control teams are made up of mental health professionals who provide mental health interventions in the field.
You can also use insurance to get the care you need. TRICARE covers counseling services at military treatment facilities and civilian mental health programs that accept TRICARE. (It’s important to note that TRICARE only covers services that fall under the definition of medical counseling, or counseling for the purpose of treating one or more diagnosed mental health conditions.)
Counseling for Veterans at The VA
If you’re a veteran with a diagnosed mental health condition, you have many options for mental health care at the VA.
The VA offers mental health treatment in many different settings—from inpatient mental health care at VA hospitals to weekly outpatient therapy sessions at VA clinics. You can even receive care over the phone using VA telehealth services.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition or think you may have one, you can use the facility locators on the VA Mental Health and Get Help pages to find a VA mental health provider near you.
You can also use the Make the Connection Resource Locator to find counseling programs run by the VA or other national organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
It can be trickier to get mental health care through the VA if you don’t have a diagnosed mental health condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depressive disorder (MDD). It’s not impossible, however. The VA’s Vet Centers are one option.
Counseling for Veterans Outside of the VA
Some veterans wonder what their options are for mental health care outside of the VA. You might be one of them. We’re here to help. The VA is a great resource for many, but it’s far from the only way to get affordable veterans’ mental health services.
When Might You Want to Go Outside of the VA for Help?
There are many reasons you might choose to seek veterans’ mental health services somewhere other than the VA:
- You don’t qualify for VA services or otherwise can’t get into the VA.
- You don’t meet the criteria for the mental health help available at the VA.
- You don’t live close to a VA facility and prefer in-person counseling to VA Telehealth Services.
- You have options available that make it possible to be seen faster outside of the VA than inside of it.
- You feel more comfortable seeking care outside of the VA due to concerns about confidentiality or for other personal reasons.
Fortunately, if you need or prefer non-VA mental health services, you have many options.
One way to get care outside of the VA is to look for a provider who accepts your insurance.
Retired veterans with diagnosed mental health conditions who have TRICARE can use it to get mental health services at any program or provider that accepts TRICARE.
If you’re a veteran who has private insurance through an employer, a spouse, or another source, you can choose a mental health provider who accepts that insurance plan.
But if you don’t have or want to use insurance, you still have options. Many organizations offer free or low-cost counseling to veterans regardless of insurance coverage.
If you’re not in a state with a Cohen Clinic, don’t worry. There are many other options for non-VA mental health care for veterans.
Many local and national organizations can help you get free or low-cost counseling. Some can give you referrals, some offer financial assistance or scholarship, and some provide direct services to veterans.
If you’re open to non-traditional treatment methods, you have many unique programs to choose from. One option is Project Welcome Home Troops, which runs free Power Breath Meditation Workshops that teach effective stress-management techniques. Reboot Combat Recovery offers a free 12-week faith-based trauma healing course.
Free wilderness therapy programs for veterans include the hiking-focused Huts for Vets, No Barriers, and Warrior Expeditions programs. Project Healing Waters offers free fly-fishing retreats for disabled veterans.
If you’re interested in faith-based therapy, many local and national non-profits offer faith-based programs, and free pastoral counseling may also be available at local churches and religious organizations where you live.
Crisis Resources for Veterans
If you’re in crisis, please reach out. There are many ways to get the help you need. One option for quick access to emergency care is to call a local mental health crisis line. Just go to our state services page, select your state, and figure out which number you should use based on where you live. There are also mental health crisis hotlines specifically for veterans.
Whether you need inpatient or outpatient treatment, crisis lines will help you get the right level of care. The people who answer can provide compassionate, confidential support that respects your unique circumstances as a veteran.
Location-Specific Specialty Mental Health Care
In addition to the national organizations that serve veterans, you may have a unique option where you live that offers specialized mental health services or support.
Many of these programs are located near a military base or in an area where many veterans live. They offer unique services that are tailored to the needs of their local military and veteran communities.
Many of these programs were established by or in partnership with state veterans’ departments to fulfill the needs of local veterans. You can read more about state veterans’ departments in the next section.
State Veterans' Departments List
State veterans’ departments can connect you with resources you’re eligible for and benefits you’ve earned. They work closely with but are independent of federal VA departments.
Some state veterans’ departments offer special state-funded veterans’ mental health programs like the Veterans’ Outreach Centers in Massachusetts and the Military Support Program in Connecticut. They also provide assistance to veterans who need help accessing veterans’ benefits and services.
Contact information for each state’s veterans’ department is listed below.
Your state mental health system is another place you may be able to find state-funded mental health services for veterans. Veterans’ departments in some states like Vermont collaborate with state mental health agencies and community mental health programs to provide free or low-cost care to veterans.
You can call your local mental health crisis or information line to find out if your city or county provides veteran-specific services or if you are otherwise eligible for public mental health services in your state.
You can also inquire at your local VA, a peer-run veterans’ organization, or your community’s chapter of the United Way to find out if there are unique veterans’ programs that serve your area.
Why Should You Consider Counseling?
If you’re a veteran or an active-duty service member in need of mental health care, you’re not alone.
Thankfully, that’s changing. More mental health programs—from the VA to veteran-focused programs at civilian-run mental health organizations—are offering effective trauma-informed care than ever before.
These improvements in evidence-based care are changing the game when it comes to mental health care for veterans.
Post-9/11 Veterans' Mental Health
Research shows that post-9/11 veterans seek mental health care sooner than their peers. This is probably because mental health care is better now and and there is less stigma in seeking it.
Another reason is that post-9/11 veterans have high rates of mental health complications. Reasons for this include:
- Longer deployment periods since 9/11;
- Higher rates of redeployment in post-9/11 conflicts; and
- The long duration of post-9/11 military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Post-9/11 veterans have an 18 percent higher survival rate than veterans of earlier wars and are surviving severe physical injuries in greater numbers than ever before. Because of this, many post-9/11 veterans come home with “polytrauma,” or traumatic brain injury (TBI) compounded by other physical and psychological injuries.
Getting mental health care is essential when you’re recovering from this kind of complex trauma. It can even save your life.
Another reason more veterans are seeking help is that society is changing and therapy is no longer stigmatized like it once was. We’re starting to understand that mental health care is as normal and essential as regular medical care. This is important, because far too many soldiers have suffered throughout their lives from treatable mental health issues.
If you’re a veteran, there are many ways you can get free or affordable mental health care. We hope this article has helped you find a provider, but even if it hasn’t, you may have other options.
When geographic barriers are an issue, online counseling can be a great choice. In addition to the many veteran-focused telehealth services available at the VA and organizations like the Cohen Veterans Network, you can get affordable online counseling from BetterHelp (a sponsor).
If you’re an active-duty military service member, a veteran, or a military family member, you don’t have to face life’s challenges alone. Getting the right help can change your life, and help is more accessible than you might think. With the support you need, you can heal the invisible wounds that have held you back and build the life you deserve.
Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments.