Many programs and benefits exist to military veterans. Some are offered through, private organizations, as well as the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). Although most benefits are well known, still there are benefits that some veterans may be unaware of. Whether you are preparing to complete your military service, or you have already completed it, here is the skinny on veteran’s benefits that may be available to you.
First off, go to the VA and get yourself registered in order to find out what benefits you may be eligible for. To get it straight from the horse’s mouth, you can go to the Department of Veteran Affairs website at www.Va.gov. There are other ways to access information for veterans’ benefits by getting in contact with nonprofit organizations such as Veterans Health Council, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans. Another great resource to check out is www.Military.com and clicking to the benefits page.
Basic Health Benefits:
In order to qualify, a veteran must have been active duty and discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Specific benefits programs will have additional requirements such as full-time service in the armed forces, service in the Reserve, cadets at the U.S Military, Air Force, and Coast Guard academies and midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, enrollment at a preparatory school at the Military, Coast Guard or Air Force academies, service in certain national organizations outside of the armed forces, and engaging in training for the Armed Forces.
When it comes to health benefits, there is much confusion when it comes to the topic of qualification. Veterans, disabled and not, can qualify for VA health benefits. Depending on your needs, whether it is rehabilitation for an injury, or you may be seeking counseling for alcohol/drug dependency, there are a number of programs to suit your needs. By law, the VA is required to provide eligible veterans hospital and out-patient care that are defined as “needed.” What does “needed” mean? It means care and services that will promote, preserve and restore a veteran’s health. The decision of “need” will depend on the judgement of your health care provider.
Veterans, as well as their dependents are eligible for VA programs. Eligibility depends on several factors. To receive these benefits, a veteran must fill out a VA Form 10-10EZ application for enrollment. It can be completed online, by telephone, or in person at your local VA center. The VA uses the 10-10EZ form to determine not only if you qualify, but also what Enrollment Priority Group you fall into. Once enrolled, a veteran is not required to reapply annually. Although, some veterans may need to update their financial information if it effects qualifications for their current priority group.
What is a priority group? It all comes down to money that Congress decides to give the VA each year. Since there is a budget to follow, the VA set up Priority Groups to ensure that certain veterans are able to enroll before others. Priority Groups have a range of 1 - 8, 1 being the highest priority. A veteran's income and eligibility may require a copay in order for them to be placed in a certain priority group. If you are eligible for more than one group, the VA will place you in the highest tiered group possible.
Another option to consider is TRICARE. It is a healthcare program for active duty and retired service members as well as their families. It is mainly based off of the military healthcare system, but it has an expansive network, bolstered by civilian medical facilities and providers. It offers many plans that can cover the needs of a service member and their family. This video, provides an overview of what they cover and offer. Some veterans and retirees use both VA benefits and TRICARE. They have their advantages and disadvantages. In some instances, VA hospitals may be full. By using TRICARE, it expands the network, thus expanding the options. Although, TRICARE isn’t free. For the most part, it is like any other insurance company, except it caters to just service members and their families.
Employment and Financial Benefits:
There are more than just health benefits available to you, such as, employment, financial and educational benefits.
When it comes to employment, a qualifying service member is entitled to a number of rights and resources. Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights ACT (USERRA) protects service member’s employment rights. Many members of the armed forces left jobs to either join or return to military service. USERRA protects the rights of said service members. You have the right to return to your previous job as long as you notified your employer that you were going into service, not have been in service for more than 5 years while with the same employer, you return to work as soon as you are discharged and have been discharged under anything but dishonorable. If all qualifications are met, you have the right to return to your old job, or one that is equivalent. Also, you’re entitled to your previous employment benefits such as healthcare. Remember, USERRA also prevents discrimination against former service members when it comes to promotions and benefits.
Disabled veterans have a right to accommodations at work. Whether it is an old job or a new one, you have a right to certain accommodations due to your disability. Some examples are modifications to work space, restructuring schedules, modifying training materials and exams, providing additional unpaid leave, temporary workplace specialists and job location transfers.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), under certain circumstances, provides a service member the right to take a leave of absence from their job. This gives them the ability to take more time off in order to seek medical attention. FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 months of leave with benefits. You must have worked for your employer at least a year prior to taking leave. The benefit for service members is that however much time they spent serving in the military counts as time that they worked for their employer. USERRA also offers resources on training and job placement services. Service Connected Disability Compensation provides disabled veterans compensation for disabilities caused or worsened during military service. If they are not eligible for disability compensation, they may qualify for VA pension. VA pension covers disabled veterans, as well as those over 65 who have low income.
When it comes to veterans looking to start their own businesses, the U.S. Small Business Administration, in connection with a network of schools and universities, have training programs to fit various needs. Programs such as Operation Boots to Business: From Service to Startup offers transitional training for recently discharged service members. Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (VWISE) is for female veterans only, offering a three-phase program. These are just two of many programs that are available to veterans. For a more fleshed out list and descriptions, check this link out.
VA Home Loan Guarantee program can assist veterans in getting better interest rates when buying a home, even if they cannot cover the down payment. It also covers loans to build a home, home improvements and repairs, and refinancing. Although the VA guarantees the loans, a veteran will still have to receive their loan from a private mortgage lender. For a breakdown of eligibility, check out this link. Also, if you are struggling with mortgage payments, a VA streamline finance loan may be your best option. It can reduce interest rates and lower your monthly payment.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers educational benefits for veterans who served after September 10, 2001.Veterans who have had a discharge other than honorable, must have served at least 90 days of active duty after September 11th. If a service member was discharged due to a disability, it is 30 days. Eligibility and benefits last for 15 years from the date of discharge.
If a service member is eligible for benefits under the Montgomery GI bill by August 1, 2009, as well as Post-9/11 GI Bill, they can elect the latter. However, it is not reversible.
The amount received correlates with how long you served in active duty. If you served 36 months of active duty, you will receive 100% of your benefits. If you served less than 36 months, you will receive 40%-90%, depending on length of service.
Post-9/11 GI Bill covers the cost of tuition and fees at colleges, for in-state tuition, or up to $17,500 for tuition fees at private and out-of-state colleges. It also covers monthly housing allowance, an annual stipend of up to $1,000 to cover books and supplies, and if you qualify, $500 for relocation.
The bill covers benefits for undergrad, graduate, technical, flight training, licensing programs, testing programs, correspondence training and tutoring.
Children of deceased service members who died on or after September 11th, are entitled to receiving full benefits, and are able to use them within 15 years after they turn 18.
The Montgomery GI Bill covers educational benefits for veterans who served active duty. It is similar to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but has a few differences.
If you need help with estimating your benefits based on a specific school, the VA has a GI Bill Comparison Tool to help with that.
The information is just at your fingertips. Be sure to use both non-government and government resources/websites to educate yourself on the specifics of these benefits. You may qualify for a specific benefit and not know it. Yes, there is a lot of information out there, but knowing what you qualify for and how to obtain it is half the battle.