If you are a veteran or currently in active duty service and planning to transition to civilian life, you are entitled to numerous benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Military service members play a vital role in serving their country, and they are rightly rewarded with benefits like health care, financial aid for education, VA-backed mortgages, pension options, life insurance, and more.
Veterans and their families make sacrifices that benefit all Americans. The federal government, along with state and local agencies, work to offer a range of resources and services that they may access throughout their lifetime as a token of gratitude.
- VA Education Benefits
- VA Disability Benefits
- VA Health Benefits
- VA Benefits for Family Members
- VA Burial Benefits
- VA Life Insurance Benefits
- VA Pension Benefits
- VA Employment Benefits
- Entrepreneurial Benefits for Veterans (VA and SBA)
Most of these benefits are only available to those who were discharged from their service for other than dishonorable conditions. This could be an Honorable Discharge, General Discharge under Honorable Conditions, or a Medical Discharge. However, if you did receive an Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge, you may still be able to receive a VA benefit depending on your circumstances.
One major draw of getting into military service is the financial aid available for education after you’ve been discharged. The VA education benefit is commonly referred to as the GI Bill, though this is an umbrella term for any educational benefits offered through the VA. These are available to all active duty service members, veterans of the military, Reserves, or National Guard, and in some cases their family members.
The most widely used education benefit is the Post 9/11 GI Bill, intended to help those who have served 90 or more active duty days since the September 11th attacks. This bill provides varying levels of aid depending on your service record but includes tuition assistance of up to 100% of tuition (if you’ve served at least 36 months), housing allowances, and money for books and supplies.
These funds can only be used for qualifying educational programs that have partnered with the VA, but most people find that their program of interest is covered at an institution in their home state. Program choices include vocational training, traditional college and university degree programs, work-study programs, and apprenticeship programs. It can also cover costs like relocation if you live in an area without a lot of higher-education options and need to move to a new city or state where your desired program is offered.
Veterans who do not need these funds or only use a portion of them have the option to transfer any remaining funds to their spouses or dependent children, though certain restrictions apply. Usually, the qualifying service member must agree to additional years of service and the new recipient must enroll in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) though many will already be if they receive TRICARE health coverage.
Related to the GI Bill and educational funding is the VetSuccess on Campus program (VSOC), associated with the VetSuccess vocational rehabilitation and training program. This program aims to help veterans transition from military to college life through the use of on-campus counselors and disability accommodations for vets with service-related disabilities. They also help transition students once they graduate out of college and transition into the workforce into meaningful careers. The VSOC is available at over 104 colleges and universities across the U.S.
Some veterans may be able to access extra funding for tuition and fees through the Yellow Ribbon Program aimed at covering costs that the Post 9/11 GI Bill does not. Yellow Ribbon focuses on private, foreign, graduate schools, and higher-cost out-of-state schools that normally wouldn’t qualify for financial aid. These benefits are generally reserved for those with longer service records, those who have received the Purple Heart medal, and those who were discharged due to a service-connected disability.
Unfortunately, many vets leave their term of service with a service-connected disability. This can be a condition that either happened while you served and because of your duties, a condition that you had before you entered service but that worsened or was exacerbated because of your service, or a condition that didn’t appear until after your service ended but is still related to your time of active duty.
Most eligible veterans must have been discharged under anything but dishonorable conditions to get a disability benefit. However, those with a less than honorable discharge may be able to apply for a discharge upgrade or request a VA Character of Discharge review if they feel their dishonorable discharge was unwarranted. Discharge revisions occur for several reasons, such as having a mental health condition or traumatic brain injury at the time your initial status was determined, being the victim of sexual harassment or assault that resulted in a negative status, or if you were discriminated against due to your sexual orientation.
VA disability compensation benefits provide a monthly stipend to qualified veterans and monthly payments will depend on the disability rating and household dependents. All disabled veterans receive a rating from the VA that depends on the severity of their condition and can range from 10% (least severe) to 100% (most severe). The VA then uses this percentage to determine your compensation rate. Once you get your rating, and if it’s at least 10% you should get your first disability payment within 15 days either by direct deposit or check.
Some veterans will be able to qualify for benefits by submitting documentation from their current doctor, but others will have to undergo a VA claim exam (also called a compensation and pension exam, or C&P exam) to accumulate more medical evidence about their condition. Those with more than one disability will use a combined rating system to determine their rate of pay. These benefits are usually available to all vets for as long as they have their disability or until their death.
Payments can range from just a few hundred dollars to a few thousand per month, depending on need. Furthermore, these veterans may also be eligible for federal disability payments like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) that can be used in conjunction with any VA benefit. The SSA provides expedited processing for veterans applying for federal benefits. This service is available to those who have a 100% permanent and total disability rating as well as wounded warriors who have mental or physical injuries and who served after October 1, 2001.
The VA healthcare system serves over nine million veterans across the country and overseas and is the largest health system in the United States. Veterans can access health care from VA Medical Centers, facilities, and partnering outpatient sites. Through the VA, a servicemember has access to standard benefits like primary care providers, specialists, mental health care, and eldercare. Depending on your priority group and medical needs you may also qualify for other health benefits like dental services, veterans home care, or assisted living care.
If you have recently been discharged from active duty service, a representative from Concierge for Care (C4C) will contact you to let you know of your options for enrolling. Alternatively, you can apply online, by phone, or visit your nearest VA health facility to speak with someone in person. To apply you’ll need to provide your discharge papers, income verification, proof of any current insurance you’re under, and Social Security numbers for you and any family member you wish to cover (like a spouse or minor child).
All veterans will be assigned a priority group rating of 1 through 8 when they enroll based on their service history, their disability rating, and their income. The VA will also look at other assistance programs you may be eligible for or already receiving like Medicaid. Your priority group helps the VA allocate resources and services to those who most need it first. Those with severe service-connected disabilities or recipients of the Medal of Honor receive priority group 1, while those with no disabilities and high incomes may fall into priority group 8 since they do not need as much assistance.
Family members and caregivers can also often qualify for health care through the VA, though your care will be provided either through TRICARE, CHAMPVA, or the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.
The VA has many ways it looks after the family members of veterans. Health insurance is usually available to spouses and minor children of active-duty service members or veterans, as is health care for qualifying caretakers. The VA also has programs available to surviving spouses and family members of veterans who died during active-service or due to a service-related disability such as:
- Dependent and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) that provides a monthly benefit to families
- Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) for help with school or job training
- Survivors’ Pension which is available to some low-income spouses and dependents
- VA-backed Home Loans for those with a current Certificate of Eligibility (COE), meaning this benefit has not already been used. Note that you will still have to meet the income and other eligibility requirements set out by your lender.
There are also family benefits for dependents and spouses of living veterans. Dependents of qualifying veterans may also be able to access educational and career counseling through Personalized Career Planning and Guidance. Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) is available for dependents and spouses of active duty service members who are currently covered through SGLI. This insurance covers spouses up to $100,000 and each dependent up to $10,000.
Those who served their country honorably can receive military funeral honors and burial services for themselves and their family members. For family members, this benefit is reserved for spouses and dependent children though in some cases the adult children of veterans may qualify for a VA burial. These benefits include an allowance for burial and funeral costs which average $1,500 to $2,000 for service-connected deaths and $1,000 to $1,600 for others. Additionally, you can be provided a VA plot or interment site, and reimbursement for transportation costs. Both veterans and their family members can be buried in a VA national cemetery.
The VA will also supply an inscribed headstone, marker, or medallion for veterans or Reservists and an American flag to be draped over the casket or placed beside an urn. Presidential Memorial Certificates (PMC) may also be provided or requested by the family if the deceased veteran is buried in a national cemetery. This is an engraved paper certificate to honor the veteran’s sacrifice and is signed by the current president. Free bereavement counseling, also referred to as grief counseling, is also available to surviving family members.
All these services are available for pre-planning purposes as well, as this can help alleviate the strain and stress of funeral preparations. To do this you’ll need to obtain a pre-need determination of eligibility. Once this is obtained you’ll be able to choose the VA cemetery you’d like to be buried in, submit all relevant documentation and apply for benefits in anticipation of your passing.
Service members take on additional risks when they choose to serve their country. To recognize and compensate for this additional burden, the VA provides comprehensive life insurance benefits to veterans and their families. There are a number of programs that veterans may qualify for based on their needs and service records.
Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) provides maximum coverage of $400,000 and is intended mainly for active duty service members, but is structured to transition the insured to Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) after the enlisted beneficiary is discharged. That said, SGLI can be extended if the service member sustained a disability in the line of duty. Once you’ve fully transitioned to VGLI it can be renewed and used for the lifetime of the veteranand typicallybegins 120 days after you leave active service.
Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) is also available to qualifying family members during the time of service, although you can choose to opt-out of this if you have coverage from another provider. Both these programs provide low-cost group term life insurance and coverage can be extended for up to two years if you meet certain requirements.
An additional program that active duty service members may qualify for is Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI) for those who have sustained a traumatic injury that resulted in an amputation, blindness, or paraplegia.
Disabled veterans also have many options for coverage based on their specific circumstances. The Service-Disabled Veterans’ Life Insurance (S-DVI) is for those with a service-connected disability and your amount of coverage depends on the severity of your disability with those who are totally disabled receiving free coverage. The Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) is for disabled veterans who’ve received the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant, and Veterans Affairs Life Insurance (VALI) is a new program (starting January 1, 2023) for veterans with service-connected disabilities to gain whole life coverage.
The VA runs two main pension programs, the Veterans Pension and the Survivors Pension. These programs are not intended for every service member, rather those war veterans with a qualifying financial need. A wartime veteran is eligible for this program if they have received an honorable discharge and have met certain income requirements set by Congress that help determine their maximum annual pension rate (MAPR).
Income requirements are based on your net worth, and as of 2021, it’s set at a maximum of $130,773. This includes both you and your spouse’s income and assets, though certain assets such as your primary residence, car, or household items don’t count toward the total.
You must also have served during a wartime period and either be over the age of 65, have a permanent disability, be residing in a nursing facility due to your disability, or be receiving other federal benefits like SSDI or SSI. A veteran’s annual payment varies depending on your needs, your marital status, and whether you also qualify for Housebound or Aid and Attendance (benefits added on to some pensioners who need additional financial assistance).
Annual compensation ranges from as low as $13,931 a year for a veteran with no spouse or dependents, to $27,549 for those with at least one dependent. Veterans who are married to another disabled vet can qualify for double coverage and may receive up to $36,861 a year combined.
A survivor’s pension is available to spouses of qualifying deceased veterans. To be eligible you must meet low-income guidelines and the spouse must not have remarried or and dependents must also be unmarried. Qualifying spouses with dependents can expect to receive anywhere from $12,229 to $18,355 annually, with each additional dependent adding roughly $2,382 a year in compensation.
The VA helps veterans with employment assistance as they transfer to civilian life. A major employment benefit is the VR&E program, which helps disabled veterans receive training and find employment.
The Veteran Readiness and Employment program (VR&E) consists of five track options:
- Reemployment Track that aims to get veterans back into their pre-service job,
- Rapid Access to Employment Track for those who need employment immediately and don’t require additional training,
- Self-Employment Track for veterans with a service-connected disability who want to open their own business,
- Employment Through Long-Term Services for Professional and Vocational Training that retrains veterans who may not be able to go into the same line of work because of a service-connected disability, and
- Independent Living for those who are not yet ready for employment but need assistance to find and secure housing.
The VA Transition Assistance Program (TAP) provides counseling and resources for over 200,000 transitioning service members each year. These services begin while you are still on active duty (one year before separation or two years before retirement) and continue into your post-service life.
The Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) has partnered with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to support and assist entrepreneurial veterans. These services can provide funding for veteran-owned small businesses through existing tools like Lender Match, training programs like Boots to Business, Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (WVETP), the Service-Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (SDVETP), or the Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program (VFPETP).
This partnership also works to connect veterans to government funding for projects, and many of these same programs are also available to military spouses.
Current and past service members should be aware of the wealth of benefits available to them through the VA and partnering organizations. The mission of the VA has always been to care for veterans, their caretakers, and military families both during their time of service and afterward. These benefits serve individuals, but they also help to connect fellow veterans to various support groups. Many veterans remain unaware of all that’s offered to them in the way of financial assistance, health benefits, insurance, employment resources, and beyond.
The easiest way to explore your options as a veteran, family member, or surviving spouse of a fallen veteran is to reach out to your local VA facility or veterans service center either in person or by phone. You can also find information online through Military OneSource, a program funded by the Department of Defense to connect past and current service members to one another for information, counseling, and advice. If you have a record of honorable service, there are a variety of benefits you and your family deserve to claim.