Locating free counseling services for veterans can be confusing. Even if you’re eligible for services through the VA, you may still have to pay for some of them. On the other hand, you might not want to use the VA for anything, and that’s OK. But then there's the worry that if you don’t use the VA for treatment, you’ll have to pay more than you could ever afford. Counseling ain't cheap -- usually. Fortunately, there are a lot of free counseling services available to veterans and their families who are seeking help.
Please know that whether it’s you that needs the help or if you are looking to help a loved one, it’s OK to reach out. Everyone needs help from time to time, and it’s important to embrace that. However, this article is not a substitute for medical advice, and you should not use it in place of visiting a trained professional. If you feel that you or a loved one needs immediate help, call 911.
Where Do I Start?
There are a number of free counseling resources for veterans and their families. The government provides some of these services. Some counselors and psychologists outside of the military and government specialize in providing care to veterans. There are also general resources you can tap into that will provide free counseling, but don’t necessarily specialize in veteran's issues.
Your local VA
Start with your local VA. If you aren’t sure where the closest one is, the VA website has a locator tool to get you started. You can narrow down the search to where you live, and specify what kind of help you’re looking for. There’s also an interactive map available if you aren’t sure exactly what you need and want to browse all the available resources by state. You can type in the exact name of the facility you’re interested in to see what services they offer, as well.
Keep in mind that not all services provided by the VA are free. While many benefits are free for veterans, you will have to fill out a financial assessment form when you apply for services. This form helps determine if you qualify for free counseling and other free services. If the VA determines that you do not qualify for free services, you will likely have to pay a copay for certain treatments. However, you may be able to offset that cost by using private health insurance as a supplement.
The Veterans Crisis Line
If you are in crisis and need immediate help, you can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255. You will connect with a counselor who can refer you to urgent care in your area. You can also call the crisis line if you don’t need immediate help but want to talk to someone who has experience with veterans and understands your unique circumstances. The line is open not only to veterans but also their loved ones and caregivers. The calls are completely confidential, and you can choose to stay anonymous. You can also send a text message to 838255 to receive support 24 hours a day 7 days a week. If you are hearing impaired, you can call the crisis line at 1-800-799-4889.
While the base chaplain is available to active duty members, military chaplains do not only serve on base. They also serve in VA hospitals and facilities. However, if you are not near a VA facility or a base, it is still possible to talk to a military chaplain. You can contact your local VA who can put you in touch with a military chaplain consultant near you. While the chaplain may not be on active duty, they have served in the military and are familiar with the challenges that veterans face.
What Are Other Free Counseling Options?
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If you are not close to a VA facility or are unable to travel to one, the VA does provide other free counseling services to veterans.
The Veteran Training portal
An online resource for veterans, the Veteran Training portal teaches vets how to improve their mental health using proven methods that have worked for other veterans and their families. These free courses cover things like anger management, parenting skills, and even how to sleep better. You can remain completely anonymous as you work through the programs.
The VA has numerous apps to help you improve your physical and mental health. Available for both Android and Apple products, the apps focus on anything from quitting smoking to meditation.
BeThere Assistance program
The VA BeThere Assistance program connects you with a peer coach for up to 365 days after separation. These peer coaches are veterans, military spouses and active duty members. They provide support and assistance for people transitioning out of the military.
VA Tele-Mental Health program
If you aren’t close to a VA facility (or can’t get there), you can enroll in the Tele-Mental Health program. This program allows you to meet with a counselor online or over the phone. The counselor is on the staff of your nearest VA facility if you need additional services.
What Are Other Options?
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For whatever reason, you don’t want to work with the VA but still feel you need help. Fortunately, there are many free counseling options available to veterans and their families.
These resources are not affiliated with the VA or the government. However, they specialize in helping get veterans free counseling.
The Soldier’s Project
The Soldier’s Project provides veterans, active duty service members, and their families with free and unlimited mental health services. No one is turned away no matter where they served, how long they served, or even if they didn’t see combat. The only requirement is that they served after 9/11.
Give An Hour
Give an Hour is a network of volunteers dedicated to providing mental health care to veterans and their families. Answer a few simple questions, and their directory will pull up a list of professionals who offer free counseling to vets and their families.
The Camaraderie Foundation
Another resource devoted to helping post 9/11 vets and their families, The Camaraderie Foundation provides free counseling services. Even though their services are free, you will need to fill out an application before working with them.
The American Red Cross
While they do not provide counseling services, The American Red Cross maintains a network of resources for vets and their families. In addition to referrals for free counseling services, the Red Cross can also help with finding housing and refer you to other services.
I Found A Counselor I Like But Can’t Afford Them
In order for counseling to work, you need to find someone that you are comfortable with and trust. That may mean going somewhere that requires you to pay for your counseling. However, there may be things you can do to ensure you can continue to see your provider of choice regardless of cost.
Check your health insurance
Insurance companies are required to provide mental health and substance abuse care at the same level that they provide medical services. That means that if your health insurance plan covers surgery at a certain level of payment, they must provide an equal level of payment for your mental health and substance abuse care. All health insurance plans (private plans, exchange plans, and Medicare) must meet this requirement. Double check your plan to make sure you get the care you are entitled to.
Don’t be afraid to talk about money
If you’ve found a counselor you connect with but are worried about price, ask about a sliding scale and explain your situation. Most counselors are willing to work with you to figure out a payment plan so you can get the help you need without breaking the bank.
Try a local training clinic
Counselors, just like the rest of us, have to go to school to learn the basics of their job. If you are near a university or even a large hospital, you might be able to find a training clinic. You can attend individual counseling sessions led by a student. A licensed counselor or psychologist supervises the student. Because this is part of the learning process for the student, most times these sessions are free (or close to it).
I Hate One-On-One Counseling
Finding someone you connect with can be a long process, and that’s OK. You need to be comfortable with whomever you work with. However, if you need help now and are having trouble connecting with a counselor, try some of these other free resources to help you until you find the right counselor.
Find a support group
Some people do better in an informal group setting, instead of in a private session. And, sometimes going to a group with other people who have experienced what you are experiencing can help. Many hospitals and community health centers have groups that meet regularly to talk about their common experiences and share their journey. These groups are usually free and open to anyone.
If you are a spiritual person, try tapping your clergy member for help. While this person may not have military specific training, most ordained clergies have taken some kind of counseling class and can help you work through some of your issues. They may also have access to more resources and can refer you to something more specific for your needs.
Getting Help When You Need It
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Knowing you need help is an important part of the journey. And, while it may seem that finding help is hard, understand that it is a process. You may need to go through a few counselors before you find one that you connect with. And, you may even need to try several types of counseling before you discover the right match. Whatever you do, don't get discouraged while you look.
Whatever your journey (or your loved one’s journey), know that you are not alone. Many organizations and individuals want to help you or your loved one get the free counseling they need.