Serving in the United States military is an honor. One of the perks of serving is not only the service itself but also the benefits after. Even a single enlistment of four years makes service members eligible for specific benefits based on military service.
Eligibility for most VA benefits is based on discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions. Active service means being a full-time service member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Public Health Service, the Environmental Services Administration or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The Veterans Administration (VA) has many programs providing financial, medical and other assistance to veterans. They include disability compensation, pension programs, free or low-cost medical care, educational programs, home loan guarantees, job training, small business loans, counseling and burials and memorial services.
How to apply for VA benefits
When veterans apply for VA benefits for the first time, they must submit a copy of their discharge paperwork, which shows service dates and type of discharge or provides the VA full name, social security number, branch, and dates of service.
Before leaving military service, service members are expected to attend at least one transition seminar to learn about your veteran’s benefits. This Transition Assistance Program notifies service members of the exhaustive list of transition benefits as well as lifetime benefits.
Leaving active duty allows for several different options which may affect your military benefits. Some service members elect to transfer to the Reserves or a state National Guard. One choice would be as a Reserve/Guard member in a one weekend a month, two weeks a year duty.
The balance between your civilian life and the military allows service members to earn credit toward a Reserve/Guard military retirement while earning drill pay and promotions. While active as a Reserve/Guard service member they have access to military exchanges, commissaries, and base facilities.
In addition to the VA benefits, the most popular benefit is the GI Bill. The modern version being the Post-9/11 GI Bill that became law in 2008. To be eligible, veterans have to have served a minimum of 90 days of active duty service since September 11, 2001.
The GI Bill pays for up to 36 months or eight semesters of tuition and fees at an accredited college or training program. Also, the GI Bill pays for professional licensing and certification exam fees, textbook fees, and if not on active duty and taking more than half-time classes, then it pays a housing allowance.
Older unemployed veterans may be eligible for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program GI Bill. It’s available for veterans between ages 35-60, who are unemployed, and not suitable for any other VA, federal, or state retraining programs. The program provides 12 months of benefits.
Many states offer discounted college tuition, 100% scholarships, housing benefits, financial assistance, and employment programs to resident military veterans and families. There may also be free services, discounts on state tax fees, and preferences for specific training programs.
Here’s a list of the best scholarships for vets and military families.
Medical & Dental
Once separated from the military and settled, veterans should register at the local Veterans Administration (VA) clinic. Registration qualifies veterans for federal funding based on the local veteran’s population. Also, the VA can review discharge papers and medical/dental records for any other entitled services. Veterans may receive a Veteran’s Medical Benefits Package and offered limited space-available treatment.
Veterans may also qualify for the Tricare Transition Assistance Management Program and the Continued Health Care Benefit Program, which provides Tricare for 180 days after separation and 18-36 months after separation. If a veteran transitions from active duty to the Reserves or National Guard, they may purchase Tricare Reserve Select medical insurance.
After active duty, the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) policy ends. Within the next year and 120 days veterans can convert the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) policy to Veterans Group Life Insurance.
If veterans convert within the first 240 days of leaving active duty, only an application is required. After 240 days an additional medical exam is required. Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI) coverage is up to the limit of the previous SGLI coverage. Veterans may also be eligible for life insurance from many military-friendly companies like USAA.
After an enlistment with one vast government bureaucracy, it may seem convenient to seek employment with another vast government bureaucracy: the federal civil service. Veterans are awarded a higher preference during the hiring process. Disabled veterans will have even higher preference.
Federal and state governments are the best military-friendly employers. Reserve or National Guard, civil-service employers understand the need for time off for annual training or deployments. In addition to working with other military veterans, veterans appreciate a work environment where co-workers also appreciate military service.
Another bonus is that years of duty can convert to credit toward a civil-service retirement. Veterans are also eligible for health insurance plans and may continue investing in the Thrift Savings Plan for retirement.
The Veterans Administration (VA) works with the federal government to offer tax credits to employers and loans to veterans starting their businesses. In addition to GI Bill benefits, veterans can use the Department of Labor programs to help gain employment skills, learn civilian terms, and get assistance for interviews.
Other programs can help access military-friendly employers like USAA, and military transition companies like Bradley-Morris maintain an annual list of military-friendly employers who prefer to hire veterans.
One last benefit worth mentioning is the VA’s home loan program, which offers guarantees to lenders to lend veterans up to 100% of a home’s purchase price. Veterans must still qualify for the mortgage based on income and credit score, but VA loan eligibility makes home ownership a reality.
While many veterans will tell you that service is already a reward, there are many benefits that veterans can take advantage of once they end their service obligation — even if it was only a four-year commitment.