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Free and Affordable Counseling for Veterans and Active-Duty Military Service Members
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 members of the military. It features extensive listings and information about how to get free or affordable couples counseling. 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.
Veterans' Mental Health Care Statistics
Since the mid-2000s, veterans have been seeking counseling and other mental health services in greater numbers.
For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported a 40 percent increase in the number of veterans seeking mental health care at the Greater Los Angeles VA Health System from 2007 to 2013. This statistic was in keeping with the national trend of increased demand for VA services that led to the 2014 wait list scandal at the VA.
Since then, wait times have improved even as demand for mental and general healthcare services at the VA continues to rise. According to a 2018 report, 41 percent of post-9/11 veterans, or about 1.7 million veterans, have a need for mental health services.
Sadly, many veterans still don’t get the care they need. At OpenCounseling, we want to help change this by increasing awareness of the variety of counseling options available to you (and your loved ones). Read on to learn about the many different options you have for affordable care if you’ve served our country.
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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.)
Department of Defense Programs
Through these programs, licensed counselors provide short-term counseling via face-to-face, telephone, or online sessions to address specific life issues. These services are limited to 12 free sessions per issue.
Research shows that these programs successfully reduce anxiety and stress and improve relationship outcomes. Unfortunately, these services are only available to you for the first 365 days after your (or your loved one’s) service has ended.
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 as well as at 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
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 have 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 by 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.
The VA's Vet Centers
Since 1979, the VA has operated community-based counseling centers called Vet Centers that provide readjustment counseling for veterans who have served in a combat zone or who have been exposed to other kinds of military trauma. You can read the full list of criteria for Vet Center eligibility on this page and search for your nearest Vet Center here.
Counseling for Veterans Outside of the VA
Some veterans choose to seek services outside of the VA and wonder what their options are. 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 is to use insurance to access services outside of the VA.
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, there are also many organizations that offer free or low-cost counseling to veterans regardless of insurance coverage.
The Cohen Veterans Network
Cohen Clinics guarantee immediate appointments for any veterans who are in crisis. And as long as you’re a post-9/11 veteran, you’re eligible for their services regardless of how long or where you served or how you were discharged.
Currently, there are Cohen Veterans Network locations in the following states:
- New York
- North Carolina
The Cohen Veterans Network plans to open more locations over time and also offers telehealth services to veterans who cannot access a clinic. (You do need to live in a state that has a Cohen Clinic, however.)
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.
Other Veterans' Mental Health Organizations
The following organizations provide counseling and other community support for veterans:
- The American Red Cross provides information and referral services to connect veterans with free or low-cost local mental health providers. They also make emergency referrals if you reach out via their Hero Care app or call their crisis line (1-877-272-7337).
- The Camaraderie Foundation provides scholarships for free counseling to post-9/11 military veterans, active-duty service members, and their families. To access this program, you need to complete a free scholarship application form on their website.
- Give an Hour is a volunteer program that links licensed therapists with veterans, military families, and trauma survivors who need free individual, couples, or family counseling. The hour-long counseling sessions are provided once a week for at least one year.
- Project Headstrong provides free mental health treatment for veterans and their families at a growing number of locations nationwide. Currently, Headstrong has offices in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, DC.
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.
Crisis Hotlines for Veterans
- The Veterans Crisis Line. To connect, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. This 24/7 hotline connects you and your family members with the caring mental health crisis response team at the VA.
- The service can also be reached by texting 838255 or by using the online chat option on the hotline’s website. Just like the phone hotline, the crisis chat and text service are anonymous and confidential.
- Vets4Warriors. To connect, call 1-855-838-8255. This hotline is a great option if you want to speak to a peer who understands what you’ve been through.
- You can also connect to Vets4Warriors via text and online chat.
- The Hero Care Program. To connect, call 1-877-272-7337. This hotline is run by The Red Cross and can help connect you with emergency mental health services as well as other resources you may need in an emergency.
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 local option where you can get specialized mental health services or support.
Many of these local programs were founded because the parent organization was located near a military base or in an area where many veterans live. Many offer unique support tailored to the needs of their local military and veteran communities.
Local Veterans' Mental Health Programs
The following list includes special local programs that offer free or low-cost counseling to veterans. This list is not exhaustive and there may be other specialty programs near you.
- The Coming Home Project (Northern California)
- Clinical Counseling at the Armed Services YMCA (San Diego, CA)
- San Luis Obispo Veteran’s Outreach Program (San Luis Obispo County, CA)
- Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (Washington State)
- Returning Veterans Project (Oregon and Southwest Washington)
- Road Home Program (Chicago, IL)
- Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (Saint Paul, MN, and statewide)
- Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (Sarpy County and statewide)
- The Samaritan Center (Austin)
- El Paso Veterans One-Stop Center (El Paso)
- Veterans’ One Stop of the Heart of Texas (Waco)
- West Texas Counseling and Guidance (San Angelo)
- Emory Healthcare Veterans Program (Atlanta, GA, and beyond via telehealth)
- Soldiers and Families Embraced (Clarksville, TN, and surrounding counties)
- Helen Ross McNabb Center Military Services Program (Knoxville, TN)
- Hidden Wounds (Columbia, SC)
- Operation Home and Healing (Philadelphia, PA)
- Cornerstone Veteran Programs (Morristown, NJ)
- New York Presbyterian Military Family Wellness Center (New York, NY)
- Veterans’ One-Stop Center of Western New York (Buffalo, NY)
- Massachusetts Veterans’ Outreach Centers (Statewide)
- Connecticut Military Support Program (Statewide)
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 help connect you with resources you’re eligible for and benefits you’ve earned. Theys 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.
Contact Information for Your State
- Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs (Montgomery): (334) 242-5077
- Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs (Anchorage): (907) 334-0874 or (888) 248-3682
- Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services (Phoenix): (602) 255-3373
- Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs (Little Rock): (501) 683-2382
- California Department of Veterans Affairs (Sacramento): (800) 952-5626
- Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs:
- Administrative Office (Lakewood): (303) 914-5832
- Denver Metro Division (Aurora): (970) 628-6044
- Northeast Division (Windsor): (970) 685-7868
- Northwest Division (Grand Junction): (970) 852-8691
- Southeast Division (Pueblo): (303) 394-6714
- Southwest Division (Durango): (303) 349-3504
- Western Region One Source (Grand Junction): (970) 257-3760 or (844) 458-9767
- Connecticut State Department of Veterans Affairs (Rocky Hill): (860) 616-3600
- Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs (Dover): (302) 739-2792 or (800) 344-9900
- Florida Department of Veterans Affairs:
- FDVA Headquarters (Largo): (727) 518-3202
- FDVA Benefits and Assistance Division (Bay Pines): (727) 319-7440
- FDVA Tallahassee Office: (850) 487-1533
- Georgia Department of Veterans Service (Atlanta): (404) 656-2300
- State of Hawaii Office of Veterans’ Services:
- Oahu Office of Veterans’ Services (Honolulu): (808) 433-0420
- Kauai Office of Veterans’ Services (Lihue): (808) 369-3535
- Hawaii Office of Veterans’ Services (Hilo): (808) 369-3538 or (808) 844-6664
- Maui, Molokai, and Lanai Office of Veterans’ Services (Kahului): (808) 369-3541
- Idaho Division of Veterans Services (Boise): (208) 780-1301
- Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs: (800) 437-9824 or (217) 782-6641
- Springfield Office: (217) 782-6641
- Chicago Office: (312) 814-2460
- Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (Indianapolis): (317) 232-3910 or (800) 400-4520
- Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs (Camp Dodge): (515) 252-4698 or (800) 838-4692
- Kansas Commission on Veterans’ Affairs Office (Topeka): (785) 296-3976 or (800) 513-7731
- Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (Frankfort): (502) 564-9203
- Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs (Baton Rouge): (225) 219-5000 or (877) GEAUXVA
- Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services (Augusta): (207) 430-6035
- Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs (Annapolis): (410) 260-3838
- Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services (Boston): (617) 210-5480
- Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (Lansing): (517) 481-8001 or (517) 284-5298 or (800) 642-4838
- Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (St. Paul): (651) 296-2562 or (888) 546-5838
- Mississippi VA (Jackson): (601) 576-4850 or (877) 203-5632
- Missouri Veterans Commission (Jefferson City): (573) 751-3779
- Montana Department of Military Affairs (Fort Harrison): (406) 324-3742
- Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs (Lincoln): (402) 471-2458
- Nevada Department of Veterans Services (Reno): (775) 688-1653
- New Hampshire Division of Veterans Services (Manchester): (603) 624-9230 or (800) 622-9230
- New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (Trenton): (609) 530-4600
- New Mexico Department of Veterans Services (Albuquerque): (505) 383-2400
- New York State Division of Veterans’ Services (New York): (888) 838-7697
- North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (Raleigh): (844) 624-8387
- North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs (Fargo): (701) 239-7165 or (866) 634-8387
- Ohio Department of Veterans Services (Columbus): (614) 644-0898 or (888) 387-6446
- Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (Oklahoma City): (405) 523-4000 or (855) 701-6382
- Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (Salem): (503) 373-2085 or (800) 692-9666
- Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (Annville): (717) 861-8910 or (800) 547-2838
- Philadelphia Field Office: (215) 381-3040 or (866) 754-8637
- Pittsburgh Field Office: (412) 395-6225 or (866) 754-8636
- State of Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services (Warwick): (401) 921-2119
- South Carolina Department of Veterans’ Affairs (Columbia): (803) 734-0200
- South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs (Pierre): (605) 773-3269 or (877) 579-0015
- Tennessee Department of Veterans Services (Nashville): (615) 741-2345
- Texas Veterans Commission (Austin): (512) 463-6564 or (800) 252-8387
- Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs (Salt Lake City): (801) 326-2372 or (800) 894-9497
- State of Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs (Montpelier): (802) 828-3379 or (888) 666-9844
- Virginia Department of Veterans Services (Richmond): (804) 786-0286
- Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (Olympia): (360) 725-2200 or (800) 562-2308
- State of West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance (Charleston): (304) 558-3661
- State of Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (Madison): (800) 947-8387
- Wyoming Veterans Commission (Cheyenne): (800) 833-5987
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, peer-run veterans’ organization, or chapter of the United Way to find out if there are unique veterans’ programs that serve your area.
Why Are More Service Members and Veterans Seeking Counseling?
If you’re a veteran or an active-duty service member in need of mental health services, you’re not alone. Combat veterans have high rates of mental health issues in later life, and increased awareness is helping more veterans get the treatment they need.
Veterans of all wars have come home bearing the invisible wounds of war trauma, but not all of them have been able to get help. Thankfully, since World War I, psychologists’ understanding of trauma-related conditions has steadily improved, and more mental health programs—from the VA to veteran-focused programs at civilian-run mental health organizations—are offering effective trauma-informed care.
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. In part, this is because our understanding of mental health has improved and there is less stigma in seeking mental health care.
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 veterans ever have 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, whether you have many or few local resources depends a lot on where you live. 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 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. Help is closer and more accessible than you think. With the right support, you can get through life’s challenges, heal from stress and trauma, 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.