Members of the U.S. military put their lives on the line to defend our country. Unfortunately, active duty servicemembers can still get harmed in more ordinary and preventable ways while they are stateside, including in car crashes while off-base.

When that happens, getting well again is obviously their first priority. Thankfully, treatment on post or even off post through TRICARE can help with injuries sustained in wrecks and other accidents. You should use that coverage for a number of reasons, even though the payments might be required to be reimbursed if you collect compensation later from a third party.

Related Reading: I’m a member of the U.S. military and got into a car accident—what now?

Even with the availability of Martin Army Hospital and doctors on post, servicemembers may be stuck wondering whether they should get their treatment from a military doctor or a civilian doctor after a non-military service-related injury. This blog seeks to answer that question.

Can Active-Duty Military Go to Civilian Doctors?

Active duty servicemembers stationed at a military base with an on-site clinic or hospital will be assigned an on-site Primary Care Manager (PCM) and will typically be required to see their PCM for all care.

However, you can still see a civilian doctor if you choose if you receive a referral or pre-authorization. If you don’t receive a referral, you may end up paying out of pocket because TRICARE will not cover that care.

WATCH: Gary Bruce discusses when military members who are injured in accidents are required to notify their post.

When you need emergency care, such as after an auto wreck, and need to be taken to the emergency room at a civilian hospital, that does not require a referral. Urgent care visits typically do not require a referral either, but it may depend on the TRICARE plan you have. If you have an urgent medical need and can’t see your PCM, visit a TRICARE network provider or TRICARE-authorized provider whenever possible to avoid out-of-pocket fees.

If you are injured in a wreck and need to be taken to the emergency room, the hospital staff may refuse to accept your insurance. Do not accept this answer. TRICARE will cover injuries from car accidents and by refusing to accept your insurance after a wreck, the hospital may be breaking the law.

Why and Why Not to Go Off Base for Treatment

There are many reasons why an injured servicemember may choose to use an on-base doctor and just as many reasons to use a civilian one. Often it comes down to the individual.

  • Location: If you live on-base, then on-base medical facilities are probably the most convenient place to receive treatment after a serious injury. It is important to get medical attention as soon as possible after an accident that may have left you injured, as it establishes a link between the accident and the injury if you later need to seek compensation from the at-fault party. It can also make it more convenient to receive follow-up treatment as you recover. If you live off-base, then another healthcare provider may be more conveniently located.
  • Accessibility: If you’re seeing an on-base doctor, there is always the risk that they may be transferred off-base at any point, including while your treatment or injury claim is still ongoing. This complicates things. However, if you have been seeing an on-base doctor as your primary care physician, they can act as an important witness to your health before and after the accident. This can be vital evidence in building a personal injury claim by showing how severely you’ve been injured and how your injuries have affected your life.

Related Reading: If I was already treating with a doctor, should I continue with that treatment?

  • Wait Times: Everyone has experienced the stress and boredom of sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, but on-base care may have significantly longer wait times to see a doctor as there are usually a limited number of doctors on post.
  • Specialists: If you need specialized treatment, you will most likely need to see a civilian doctor regardless of whether you live on-base or off. Most military hospitals are not equipped to handle specialized care.
  • Availability for Testimony: Probably the most important reason to seek a referral off-post is the fact local doctors will usually be available later if testimony is needed. Army doctors, especially specialists, sometimes move on or into private practice in other parts of the country. Keeping everything local in the long run can be beneficial if a lawsuit is required.
  • Trust: Choose a doctor you feel comfortable with and trust with your care. If that is your PCM, then you should see them. If that’s a civilian doctor, then don’t hesitate to go off-base for your treatment.

Military Families Know to Get Gary Bruce

If you have questions about who to see for treatment and how that choice may affect any injury claim you may need to make, contact the Law Offices of Gary Bruce today. Our experienced lawyers have worked with injured members of the military, and we understand how these cases work and how to win. Call today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss the details of your case.