I’ve read quite a few questions from military dependents who are wondering about their mental health counseling benefits. From what I have seen, the military has one of the best programs covering mental health care. There are four ways you can pursue it, either through Tricare, through Military One Source, through your military treatment facility (in some locations) or through your family support center (at some locations.) There are pros and cons to each.
The first option is Tricare. Tricare allows self-referral for mental health care, which means that you do not need to see your PCM/PCP in order to get a referral. You are authorized 8 visits without a referral, after which the provider can submit to have more visits approved. You do need to use an approved provider, who can be found using the search function at the Tricare website. These are civilian providers who are off-base. The main advantage of going through Tricare is that you are basically able to have an unlimited number of visits, as long as your provider continues to fill out the right paperwork along the way. One possible downside is that the counselors do not necessarily have training in or understanding of the military.
The second option is to access counseling through Military One Source. There are actually three ways to receive counseling services through Military One Source: traditional, face-to-face counseling with a provider in your community, telephone counseling, and on-line counseling. The last two options are great for people who are uncomfortable seeing a counselor in their community, or who find that their location or family situation makes in-person counseling difficult. Military One Source provides up to 12 free counseling session per issue. To utilize counseling through Military One Source, call 1-800-342-9647 (for in-person and telephone counseling) or go through the link at the counseling page to set an appointment for online counseling. Military One Source does not provide any information regarding counseling to the military, and so it is outside of the military system. However, you can only have 12 session with an specific counselor. If you have a big issue, this limitation might be a problem for you.
The third and fourth options are only available in some military communities. Certain military treatment facilities (MTF) offer behavioral health services to family members. You may be referred by your PCM/PCP, or, in most cases, you can self-refer for counseling services. Check your MTF to see if they offer family member behavioral health services. Behavioral health providers at MTFs tend to understand the military lifestyle, which is helpful when working with a counselor. However, appointment availability can be tough and providers tend to transfer or be deployed just as you’ve settled in with that provider.
The fourth option is run through your service’s family support center. The Department of Defense has contracted an outside company to provide counseling services through the family support centers. This program, called Military & Family Life Consultants (MFLC), offers short-term, solutions based counseling to individuals, couples, families and groups. There is no charge for using MFLC services. MFLC consultants understand the military, but the program is not designed to deal with long-term issues. The counselors work on a rotational basis and therefore do not build deep relationships with their clients.
Military life is stressful, and having professional assistance can make the problems of military life much more manageable. Please don’t hesitate to take advantage of the many ways to access military-provided mental health services.