If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the major military and veteran benefits available to service members past and present. The GI Bill, around in its various forms since 1944, is pretty much common knowledge. The Department of Veterans Affairs has done a pretty decent job of late at getting word out about the fantastic VA Home Loan program. And things like VA medical care, service related disability payments, and retirement benefits are usually explained in depth during the process of separating from the military.
But as great as those bigger programs are, there are a sizable handful of smaller initiatives that offer benefits to certain members of the military community. Ones that aren’t quite as well known or widely written about, but are definitely worth knowing about.
Active Duty Military Benefits
Military Health Insurance
There are a lot of swell military bonuses and benefits that go along with the many upsides of service. One of the best and biggest tackles something you probably won’t even realize can be a big headache until you’re out of uniform: health insurance. Setting up, dealing with, and paying for insurance is a hassle the military doesn’t want its personnel and families to fret too much over. After all, you’ve got enough on your plate. That’s where TRICARE comes in.
What Is TRICARE?
All active personnel and their families qualify for one or more of the plans provided by TRICARE, the Defense Department’s healthcare insurance system. And the coverage is extremely comprehensive across them all with no out of pocket costs. The only real difference in plans is where the coverage applies:
- TRICARE Prime – The standard plan for active duty military based in the United States.
- TRICARE Remote – For service members stationed in remote areas of the United States.
- TRICARE Prime Overseas – For those stationed outside the United States.
- TRICARE Prime Remote Overseas – For those stationed in particularly remote places outside the continental US. East Asia, AFRICOM, etc.
TRICARE also covers the health insurance needs of all active duty dependents as well. So long as someone’s registered with DEERS, they are eligible for coverage. Typically a spouse or child is covered under whichever plan their service member has. But there are other plan options for those rare cases when that does not apply.
Military Dental Insurance
TRICARE also covers dental insurance as well. As most bases have dental units that take care of most common dental procedures, chances are you won’t even use external options. But if you or a dependent do need something taken care of that your local military dentists can’t manage, TRICARE’s Active Duty Dental Program allows you to go off-base for treatment. With a referral from your usual military dental clinic, of course. If you need off-base dental care while stationed overseas, you’ll have to go through International SOS, TRICARE’s system for service members outside the US.
Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance
Military health insurance is a fairly straightforward affair, particularly once you get your TRICARE set up. Which most branches get you through before you even finish your training. But what about life insurance? You’re certainly welcome to look outside the DoD for coverage. But you’ll be hard pressed to find a better option than the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance or SGLI.
SGLI offers coverage in $50,000 increments all the way up to $500,000. When you sign up, your monthly premiums are automatically deducted from your base pay at the current rate of 7 cents for every $1,000 of coverage. You can opt out of or change your coverage at any time. But given the low cost and high benefits, you should really consider making SGLI your primary life insurance while on active duty.
Family Servicemembers’ General Life Insurance
Tangent to the SGLI is the FSGLI program, a life insurance program available to family members of active military personnel. If you’re the spouse of someone covered by the SGLI, you’re eligible for up to $100,000 (so long as the amount is no higher than your spouse) of coverage through the same program. Like SGLI, the monthly premiums for FSGLI are taken out of the service member’s base pay. The cost varies based on coverage amount and age, but the highest it currently goes (the full 100k for a spouse over 60) is $50 a month.
Dependent children under age 18 can also be insured up to $10,000 for absolutely no cost. So enrolling most, if not all, of your family in the FSGLI is a smart idea. No matter how big or small it may be.
Additional Military Spouse Benefits
FSGLI and TRICARE are just a few of the great programs available to active military spouses in appreciation of the unique sacrifices they make. Because having your health and life insurance needs met while your spouse serves is nice, but more is better. And well deserved,to be sure. These are two other fantastic initiatives available to those folks strong enough to marry someone in uniform.
Military Spouse Preference (MSP) Program
What with all the regular moving around and general air of uncertainty that goes with being a military spouse, it can be hard to get and hold a job. Particularly when your potential boss knows you’ll be PCS-ing somewhere else in a few short years and might not be so understanding. But you know who is understanding? The DoD. When you apply for a civilian government job and register as an active duty military spouse you’ll get preferential treatment in the selection and hiring processes. All thanks to the MSP Program.
Military Spouse Career Advancement
Maybe working for the Department of Defense doesn’t appeal to you as a military spouse. Maybe you have a different, specific career path you’d like to follow. Or maybe you don’t quite know what you want to do for a living. Whatever your professional goals, the My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA for short) is a great resource you can use to further them and/or figure them out. A scholarship program just for military spouses, MyCAA offers up to $4,000 of financial aid to help you get a professional certification, license, or even as Associate’s degree. See if the type of training or education that interests you is eligible.
The GI Bill
The GI Bill is one of the best known and greatest resources available to veterans. In its current and most of its previous forms, it covers eight semesters of tuition at any accredited college or university up to the cost of a state school in your locality. So a state or city school is completely covered. Minus additional costs like textbooks and required reading, which you also get a stipend for.
Private schools will probably cost more than the GI Bill will cover. But many of those have scholarship options for veterans like the Yellow Ribbon program. And if college isn’t what you want for your next step in life or need for the career you hope to have, the GI Bill also covers a host of non-collegiate school and training programs.
The GI Bill is a wonderful program and a great way to expand your post-military horizons via higher education. But the Vocational Rehab and Education program (often referred to as Voc-Rehab or VR&E for short) is also available for eligible vets looking to learn or train for their next career. It helps current and veteran personnel continue their education without tapping into your GI Bill, find civilian work based on their military skills, get a small business started, and more.
Depending on which sub-program(s) of Voc-Rehab you’re interested in, the specific process of gaining and maintaining your benefits will vary. But eligibility to apply is pretty broad. So long as you are within 12 years of your separation from active services, received any sort of discharge other than dishonorable, and have at least a 10% disability rating from the VA you are entitled to these benefits. And if you’ve got tinnitus, as pretty much every vet does, you’ve got that required 10%. So definitely check this one out.
Veteran Health Care
One of your very first errands after leaving the military should be a visit to one of the VA Health Care system’s 1,2000 facilities, including 170 medical centers, across the country. The sooner you’re on their books the better. After all, you can’t start receiving your disability payments until you get your rating from the VA. And even if it’s 0% now (which it almost definitely won’t be, because tinnitus is an automatic 10% and we ALL have tinnitus), you never know what old service injury might start hurting more in the future and lead to an increase in the rating.
In addition to offering lifetime care for all service related injuries, the VA health system offers a host of additional support programs for vets. First, foremost, and unbeknownst to many veterans the VA actually covers 100% of all your health care needs for your first 5 years after active duty. So you don’t need to sweat health insurance during your job hunt (or however much downtime you need to unwind before you start one). After that they continuously offer all sorts of wellness programs from free flu shots to help quitting smoking.
Retired Military Health Insurance
Health insurance for retirees, just like insurance for active duty personnel, falls under Tricare. There are a few different plans depending on your age, whether you retired from active or reserve duty, and your current Medicare benefits. But as a retiree you and your dependents have the same all-inclusive insurance coverage you did while on active duty.
Retired Military Dental Insurance
Formerly a Tricare program as well, dental insurance for military retirees now falls under the purview of the government’s Office of Personnel Management. Their Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (or FEDVIP) offers full dental coverage to most retired military and their dependents. This includes children up until age 21 (or age 23 if they’re in school full time).
What Is CHAMPVA?
The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) is a health insurance initiative for the spouses and children of disabled or deceased veterans who don’t qualify for Tricare. Sometimes such dependents of permanently disabled veterans or those who died from service related injuries do not qualify on their own for Tricare coverage. In those situations, CHAMPVA can cover the health insurance needs of military family members.
Veteran Owned Business Support
Striking out on your own, or with fellow vets, for your next career? Then you’ll definitely want to register as a Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB). Doing so has a whole host of benefits, not least of all big advantages when bidding on government contracts. Plus you get access to great resources and support programs from the VA to get you up and running.
Veterans Burial Benefits
Okay, so nobody likes thinking about this sort of stuff. But one of the immutable facts of life is its end. When yours comes, you don’t want to leave your loved ones with more headaches and tasks than necessary. Check your eligibility for burial in one of America’s national cemeteries, resting places befitting the men and women who nobly served our country.
Military Pension Program
We all know that retiree’s get pensions in honor of their long service and/or disability suffered due to said service. But less well known is the fact that many veterans over 65 who served on active duty for specific minimums (90 days before September 8th, 1980 or 24 months after September 7th, 1980) that included at least 1 day of wartime service are eligible for pensions.
So long as you were discharged in any circumstances other than dishonorable and your household net worth/income is below a certain amount, you can receive monthly pension payments to help you get by.
Continued Life Insurance Coverage
You probably don’t think too much about your SGLI (Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance) on a daily basis. If you’re still serving, you probably filled out the form years ago when you first joined up and filed the paperwork in a drawer somewhere. Maybe you changed it if you got divorced or married, but chances are you haven’t thought much of it. And if you’re a veteran, you may think that its coverage is a thing of the past.
But the military also offers insurance plans to those recently separated or retired from any of the uniformed services. You have a limited window (1 year and 120 days) after leaving the military to transfer your SGLI into a Veterans’ Group Life Insurance plan or VGLI. It’s a great way to make sure you’re continuously covered no matter your future career or life plans. So don’t delay.
And if you apply before you’re 240 days out you don’t even need to send in proof of good health. You can get coverage of up to $400,000 for just $32 a month depending on your age. And, while rates go up with age, you can get smaller coverage plans for less, all the way down to $10,000, depending on your needs.
Already outside that window or don’t qualify for the SGLI-VGLI transfer for some other reason? Don’t fret, the VA offers a host of other life insurance options for veterans and their dependents.
Veteran Home Care Aid
If you’re receiving any sort of pension, including the sort we just went over above, and require in-home you may be eligible for extra monthly payments to cover it. Pensioned veterans who require any level of assistance for daily life, including those who are entirely/mostly housebound due to disability, can apply. It’s open to vets who fit these criteria living in nursing homes as well.
VA IRRRL Loan
An Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (or IRRRL) is a way to refinance a pre-existing home loan. They’re sometimes referred to as a streamline refinance. These loans are designed to either lower your monthly payment with a lower interest rate or stabilize your payments by switching you to a fixed loan. Veterans with a current VA Home Loan may apply for a VA IRRRL if they need it. So if you’re having trouble managing your VA loan payments, this is a great way to help get you back on the right financial track.
You earned all of these benefits with the courage and time you gave (and may still be giving) to our nation’s defense. So you owe it to yourself to make use of them. Learn more about them by clicking on any of the links included herein. Or check out our more in-depth looks at some of them right here on AHRN.
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