How VA and Tricare Users Can Get Tested for Coronavirus

CDC’s laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus.
CDC’s laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The U.S. military says it has plenty of coronavirus tests ready to meet demand. But not everyone meets requirements to get tested.

Military family members and retirees covered under Tricare and veterans using the Department of Veterans Affairs health system can receive a test for the novel coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, but only if they meet certain conditions, officials said.

Who Can Be Tested for COVID-19 and Have the Fee Waived?

The VA and Tricare have instituted similar rules around who qualifies for testing:

  • The patient has COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.
  • The patient has traveled to one of the affected areas, like China or Italy.
  • Or they have been in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

The VA also requires that the patient live in an area where there has been community spread of COVID-19.

Tricare announced via Facebook Tuesday COVID-19 testing is free for all beneficiaries. While it will still be no-cost if the test was prescribed by a network or non-provider, the usual copay or cost-share for the doctor visit will apply.

The VA is offering free testing to enrolled veterans, a VA spokeswoman said via email Monday. This extends to Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA) beneficiaries.

"VA currently has capacity to meet the demand for increased testing," the spokeswoman said.

What Should I Do If I Think I Have the Virus?

Tricare and VA both are asking patients not to go directly to a medical center without first calling.

The VA is urging veterans to receive care virtually by downloading its VA Telehealth App; Tricare wants beneficiaries to call into the Military Health System Nurse Advice Line and chat with a registered nurse to assess their symptoms.

"If needed, they can coordinate a virtual visit with a health care provider," a Tricare official said via email.

What Happens If I Need to Be Tested?

If a patient needs to be tested, he or she will be given more information on next steps through the nurse advice line or VA app.

Officials said 14 Defense Department laboratories are performing COVID-19 testing, and they expect more to come online. Military clinics can also utilize state public health labs, officials said.

Where Can I Find Additional Information?

The VA is providing information updates via its coronavirus page here and has offered guidance for facility visits here.

Tricare beneficiaries can stay up-to-date on the latest information here.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with new information about testing offered by Tricare.

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

Read More: More COVID-19 coverage

Story Continues