Monday, May 08, 2006

Retire to the Philippines? Part I

Today's Lesson: Health Care

I literally retired HERE more than four years ago; in fact, I was on terminal leave for almost three months before being finally and officially discharged.

So, after being here these past 47 months do I think it was a good idea to live in The Phils? In a word, yes. I love it here, BUT if YOU are about to retire from the armed forces, or you are already retired and you are considering coming here to live, FIRST do your homework by reading on.

Information is primary. You need as much of it as you can get BEFORE you can make an informed decision. Don’t come here (to the Phils) until you know as many of the disadvantages as you can. Knowing the advantages is okay, but the negative aspects should be what governs your decision MOST.

Today’s lesson: Health Care. As a retiree in the Phils, you have two possible options for medical care: 1) The VA Outpatient Clinic (VAOPC) in Manila, or also through the VAOPC as a veteran VA Fee Basis patient for service-connected conditions, and 2) Tri-Care Overseas. For your family, the only option you have for them is Tri-Care.

Medicare is no good here; you can’t use it anywhere overseas, although if you are eligible for Medicare you MUST signup for Part B, or you cannot avail of TriCare Overseas. It’s totally unfair, but that’s the way it is.

To use the VAOPC here, a veteran must first have at least a single rated service-connected (SC) disability, even if its one rated at just 0% that is good, because THAT will get your foot in the VAOPC door. They will treat your SC conditions either on an outpatient basis, or they will issue a “chit” for treatment at an authorized medical facility hopefully near you, a program called “Fee Basis.” Keep in mind, however, that Fee Basis is ONLY for your SC disabilities.

The VAOPC has the option of treating or not treating your non-service-connected conditions on an outpatient basis. It seems whimsical, but they make the rules and they are NOT the same rules that apply at a stateside VA medical facility. Why is this? Read below.

VA Manila is the ONLY VA facility outside of the territory of the USA. It first opened its doors in the 1920s when the Philippines was still a commonwealth of the United States. The VA here remained open after Philippine Independence in 1947 because of the huge numbers of Filipino WWII vets, deemed by law to be US veterans. The rules are different here in how they treat veterans at the VAOPC, because they are funded different. Remember, the PRIMARY reason for VARO Manila’s existence is to provide for the dwindling number of WWII Filipino veterans. The fact that the rest of us non-Filipino US vets can also get treatment is our good fortune, but we should NOT consider it permanent. There WILL come a time when the BIG VA in Washington will request VARO Manila’s closure in a cost-saving bid. I can almost guarantee this will happen.

Once the VA closes in Manila, all we will have available for medical is TriCare Overseas. (I believe the closure of VA Manila will start to be a real possibility starting around 2009). When I first arrived in 2002, we had access to all the TriCare we needed. Unfortunately, due to suspected multimillion-dollar abuses of the system, we no longer have it so good. Before, we put no money down, signed up with CyberCare or HealthVisions, got our treatment and meds, and TriCare paid directly to the healthcare providers. Now, you MUST pay up front for treatment and medications, fill out a TriCare Form 2642, and send it and billing receipts to Wisconsin for assessment with the hope they will refund 75% of the charges.

There are rumors that we will be able to buy local health insurance to help cover the burden of the non-refundable 25%, or perhaps even to relieve us of the current "cash down" requirement, but so far it’s all rumors. Time after time another company pops up and seems to offer another Health Visions style health plan, but none of them have panned out as the genuine article at this time.

In a nutshell, it all means that if you have the potential of a serious health problem, this is NOT the place to be, UNLESS you have access to some money, either with a credit card or some savings. Treatment is VERY inexpensive in the Philippines, but the bills can add up pretty quickly if you become admitted for a stroke, heart attack or for some other serious condition. If you think you’ll just hop back over to the States and start using your TriCare Prime or Medicare, guess again. NO airlines will consider taking you back on a normal flight if you are so sick that you might need oxygen to make it through the flight. So, you will be stuck here until you can either recover to the point of being flyable, or…!

I don’t like being a wet blanket, but as I said above, it’s the NEGATIVES that you should be MOST aware of when making a decision to live here or not.

Now, read this, my first post, which explains what I LIKE about living in the Phils! Its proof that it’s not ALL doom and gloom over here. Oh, and here’s another local website sponsored by Jim Boyd, the Retiree Activities Officer AND local Embassy Warden, right here in Angeles City that is jam-packed with almost every conceivable bit of info you will need to make a decision to live here or not. I found it before I got out in ’02, and it convinced me to give it a try – no regrets so far!

Stay tuned for further posts on retiring from the US Armed Forces and living here in the Philippines, and if you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask them in the comments section or email me at


niceheart said...

Glad to know that you like living in the Philippines and enjoying the friendliness of the people there. That's us Pinoys, we always have a ready smile. There are a lot of Filipinos here in Winnipeg and I guess that's why I have enjoyed living here as well. It's like being home around these Filipinos. And of course I like the healthcare here. Doctor's visits and hospitalization are free.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Ah, so you read my first post. Glad you did, otherwise, you might think I'm simply a whiner!

Nick Ballesteros said...

Phil, good pointers there. lots of Filipino food border on yummy but quite unhealthy if taken excessively. Immigrants might find themselves gorging on Lechon, rice cakes, and loads of seafood til they forget what day it is or where they are! Healthcare is crucial there.

Amadeo said...


Very useful info, especially for those only vaguely familiar with the local situation.

And for those like us, who have tried living there and elsewhere, we typically pick and choose where the services would be advantageous for us. I, for example, have availed there of very extensive dental care that still turned out a lot cheaper than if we had done them here in the US, including fare and other expenses.

But I suppose in the case of catastrophic illnesses, each individual case will have to be weighed in the areas of costs and availability.

And retirees from the US armed services may be quite a different case.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Good point Sidney, but hopefully the TriCare system will get sorted out and we can go back to having access to full coverage. Just the same, a smart person thinks ahead and does what's best not only for him or her, but for the whole family. It's all about planning and staying on top of what's going on. Currently, the situation is fluid.

Anonymous said...

I just hope the closure of VAOPC is not going to happen soon.I would like to live in the Philippines beginning this year and I can avail of it. I agree with you about the suspected multi million-dollar abuses of the system.

jollibee said...

Not to worry folks... we are certified health provider by tricare...our name is 888 Health Clinic & Diagnostic Center... we have a 1 stop shop for your outpatient service needs, our contact number is : 528-0536, we are just 2 minutes away from U.S. embassy in manila.... if you guys have time... come and check us out.... i am not sure if i am permitted by phil to add my link here... you can ask for dr. larosa or dr. lim.... thank you phil