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Stethoscope and military dog tags.

Buying Viagra for Military Personnel: How it Works

Military medicine is complicated. Buying the right lifestyle medication doesn’t have to be.

Military personnel live very differently from civilians, and that’s especially true of their medical care. That can have some unusual impacts on lifestyle medication like Viagra. If you’re a service member, active or retired, here’s an overview of what to know on securing Viagra and other lifestyle medications under the Military Health System.

What Is The Military Health System?

The Military Health System, or MHS, is all of the military’s operations concerning health care. It’s responsible for:

  • Ensuring proper health care for all 1.4 million active personnel around the world.
  • The health care of  all 331,000 Reserve personnel.
  • Training and support for all military medical personnel.
  • And to “provide a medical benefit commensurate with the service and sacrifice of more than 9.5 million active duty personnel, military retirees and their families.”

The MHS runs a civilian health benefit called Tricare. Tricare covers active duty service people, retirees, and their families. Some Reserve members also qualify for Tricare. Medical care makes up $49.5 billion, 6.5% of the military’s FY2020 budget.

Due to being funded by taxpayers, Tricare faces a degree of scrutiny that most medical systems never do. That’s part of what drives its prescriptions policies, and why drugs like Viagra aren’t necessarily covered.

How Does Tricare Decide What Prescriptions It Covers?

Medical personnel holding a stethoscope with an American flag.

The MHS helps keep military personnel healthy, but that involves trade-offs.

First, any prescription drugs first have to be approved by the FDA to be used under the MHS; they won’t be considered otherwise.

Every quarter, Tricare releases a formulary, the drugs that it will make available to members of the plan. The formulary sorts drugs into four categories:

  • Generic Formulary Drugs: These cost the least out of pocket, are the most widely available, and are generally just non-brand name medications.
  • Non-Generic Formulary Drugs: These are brand name medications. They’re still generally available, but may not be depending on the service member’s location and personal situation, but they will cost more under the plan.
  • Non-Formulary Drugs: These may still be covered under the plan, but are expensive and harder to find.
  • Non-Covered Drugs: You’re on your own to secure and pay for these drugs. You may also need to be authorized by your doctor to take this medication, depending on what it is and what it does.

As the Formulary is regularly updated, some medications may slip into different categories, depending on its situation. And that’s precisely what happened to Viagra.

Why Isn’t Tricare Covering Viagra?

Viagra and Cialis were moved to the non-covered categories. How it happened is a good illustration of how the whole process works, so let’s go step by step.

  • In 2019, the Department of Defense Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee completed an analysis of generic and brand-name versions of Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil) and other erectile dysfunction drugs. Of note, this was driven by prostate health considerations, as Cialis was approved by the FDA to reduce prostate size.
  • The analysis found no difference between the two, so it voted to move the brand-name drugs into the non-covered category.
  • Based on this, in January 2020, the Defense Health Agency (DHA) passed a policy that said only generics could be prescribed under Tricare.
  • However, this ruling also meant that any member of Tricare over 40 seeking a prescription for Viagra or other ED products no longer need authorization from a doctor. Service members are free to simply go out and get it.

In other words, like most bureaucratic processes, there are trade-offs; if you’re willing to pay the full price on your own, you can secure the drugs separately.

Why Buy Viagra?

Hand shake.

Medical personnel and service members need to work together for better health.

There are several reasons to prefer a name brand medication over a generic.

  • Generics do not have to prove their efficacy; the studies performed for the name brand are seen as acceptable.
  • Generics manufacturers are technically allowed up to 20% more or less of the effective ingredient, although research has found variance is generally around 4% or less.
  • Generics may vary their overall formulation. While it’s unlikely that one formulation may cause a problem, when another doesn’t, there have been a handful of reported cases.

In short, if you prefer Viagra, you don’t have to settle for a generic, regardless of your health plan.

Can Service Members Receive Viagra In The Mail?

Holding a yellow ribbon in palms.

Protecting health matters to make sure service members come back.

Lifestyle medications have been on the leading edge of telemedicine. As many of them have been on the market for years and have been well-studied, securing a prescription is a simple matter of filling out an online questionnaire and consulting with a doctor via phone or videoconference software.

However, there is the question of receiving medication in the mail. If you live off-base or are retired, this isn’t an issue, as you receive your medication through the United State Postal Service. For those on-base or overseas, there has historically been a potential issue with prescription medication.

Fortunately, the decision that moved Viagra into the non-covered category also cleared the way for it to be sent to bases. In Publication 52, the USPS’s guidance on what can be sent in the mail, under section 453 and 635 it clearly details its stance on prescription medication.

  • First, under 635, it states “Drugs that are admissible in domestic mail (see Chapter 4) are also acceptable in international and APO/FPO/DPO mail, provided there is no specific exclusion by the destination country or military or diplomatic Post Office.” This is the case for Viagra.
  • Under 453.11, a prescription drug must not be an “anabolic steroid, narcotic, hallucinogenic, stimulant, or depressant.” As Viagra has none of these effects, it fits this requirement.
  • Under 453.32 “For prescription medicines containing a nonnarcotic drug(s), only a pharmacist or medical practitioner, etc., who dispenses the medicine may mail such substances to the patients under their care.”

In other words, as long as you receive Viagra from a certified pharmacy, it can be shipped to you. It would still be proper procedure to discuss your drug choices with your doctor, to keep your chart up to date, and to discuss this with your local MPO to be sure you’re in compliance with any local regulations as well. However, if you’d prefer Viagra or another brand name to treat your erectile dysfunction , then you can do so with confidence.

Dan is a long-time freelance writer focusing on technology, science, health, and medicine, with a lifelong interest in physics, biology, and medicine. His work has taken a particular focus on scientific studies "beyond the headlines," reading the study to more closely examine the results.