Comprehensive Military Benefits Guide

Military Benefits Guide

A Comprehensive Guide to Military Benefits

Joining the United States Military as a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guard member or Space Force Guardian means accepting a commission or taking an oath of enlistment. The oath describes the new servicemember’s obligations to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.

But after the oath, these new troops learn about the benefits they have earned by taking the oath. What ARE the benefits of joining a branch of the uniformed services?

How do they differ depending on your status as an active duty service member, National Guard, or Reserve component? Do military spouses and dependent children get benefits too? In some cases, the answer is definitely yes. In other cases, the benefits may have qualifying requirements.

Below, we’ll explore military benefits for all eligible applicants below, starting with active duty, Guard and Reserve, and finishing with information for spouses, dependents, and others who may qualify.

Military Benefits for Active Duty Personnel

Military benefits start with pay and allowances but also include healthcare, education, medical care, travel, free tax support, and home loans. Some benefits begin immediately, others require minimum time in service.

Some benefits cannot be accessed until the service member has completed Basic Training and any advance training required before getting a first duty station assignment.

Military Benefits During Basic Training

When you enlist or accept a commission, some benefits are open to you right away. Military pay begins when you begin your initial training, and so do medical benefits in the form of on-base care from a military facility. All new recruits are automatically covered by TRICARE health insurance when they ship out to basic training.

What you do not get right away includes the GI Bill, the VA home loan, spouse tuition assistance, access to on-base child care, military leave, Space-A travel, and special pay/allowances like hazardous duty pay and proficiency pay.

Read More: Military Benefits Offered During Basic Training

Military Allowances

Depending on your duty station, the nature of the duty, your branch of service, and other variables you may be offered a range of military allowances to offset certain costs associated with relocating to and working at a new assignment, deployment, TDY, etc. These allowances may include:

    • Basic Allowance For Subsistence
    • Housing allowance (overseas and stateside)
    • Other “situational” allowances (Cost of Living, Family Separation)
    • Clothing allowances

Most of these allowances must either be approved by your chain of command or you must apply to begin the approval process. The branch of military service, the type of allowance you need, and your rank will all play a factor in determining how much you are entitled to and when.

There are also many other special pay and allowance options that may be offered to you depending on your rank, your career field, and other variables. Many of these must be qualified for through specific service, testing (language proficiency testing is one of those), and experience.

Others may be offered by virtue of being assigned to a certain location (hazardous duty pay is one of those) or because a career field is understaffed and needs retention incentives.

Read More: Military Allowances Guide

“Situational” Military Allowances

Some military allowances are offered if the military decides you need them in specific circumstances. For example, a Cost of Living Allowance (also known as COLA) supplements basic pay in areas overseas where the cost of living is higher. Overseas assignments like Japan, for example, have traditionally featured COLA to make being stationed there more affordable.

Another situational allowance is FSA, also known as the Family Separation Allowance. This is paid to those who must perform duty away from their family.

This allowance is paid for those who are involuntarily assigned away from home and is not offered for those who volunteer to serve elsewhere. Situational allowances (our term, not the DoD’s) are paid when the service member meets the required conditions and is no longer paid when those conditions are no longer met.

Military Housing & Housing Allowances

Some will qualify for a Basic Allowance for Housing stateside or an Overseas Housing Allowance. What does it take to be approved for these housing allowances? In some cases, it’s a simple matter of being assigned to a new base and not being given government quarters. In others, it may be a case of deciding which option works best for you. But what about those offered government quarters as single or married service members?

Some military members may qualify for on-base military housing. Some are offered this as single/unaccompanied service members, others are offered military family housing designed for legally married couples and any dependent children.

You may be offered on-post housing run by the DoD (getting rarer all the time) or you may be offered housing on base or off run by a public/private venture agreement between the federal government and a private housing provider.

If you draw BAH and live off base, you may or may not have the option to choose on-post housing later. Much depends on the assignment you’re at and the available on-base units at the time.

Single and unaccompanied service members who are not offered BAH are usually housed in “the barracks”, which in today’s sense are more like college dorm rooms (depending on the location, housing conditions, and quality in these facilities can vary greatly) than what you might envision a barracks environment to be like. Your options may include:

    • Government-owned on-base housing
    • Privatized on-base housing
    • Single or unaccompanied quarters

Read More: Military Housing Allowances (BAH and OHA)

VA Home Loans

The VA Home Loan benefit is offered to those who serve a minimum amount of time in uniform after completing initial training. VA loans typically require a minimum of 90 days of continuous active duty service but if you joined in an earlier “service era” than the current Gulf War era, your time in service minimums may vary.

Read More: VA Loan Basics

VA mortgages offer zero-down payment options, have no VA-required mortgage insurance, and there are no penalties for paying off the mortgage early. You may have the option of using a VA mortgage to build a home from the ground up, purchase a condo unit or mobile home, and you can use VA mortgages to purchase mixed-use properties that are primarily residential. VA mortgages limit certain costs the lender can pass on to you, the zero-down option is a huge advantage for many buyers, and you cannot be penalized for early payoff of the home loan.

Read More: The VA Home Loan Guide

To apply for a VA loan, you must first get a VA Certificate Of Eligibility and apply through a participating lender. Eligibility for the VA loan program is not the same as VA loan approval, and you are required to credit-qualify for a VA loan the same as any other mortgage program.

Read More: The VA Loan Certificate Of Eligibility

Qualifying for the VA loan benefit does not mean instant loan approval. You must credit-qualify for a VA mortgage the same as any other major line of credit. That said, VA loans are easier to get than some conventional mortgages because they have more forgiving credit standards.

Read More: VA Loans: Why Credit Scores Matter

VA Loans allow you to buy, refinance, renovate or build a home from the ground up. You can buy property in the United States or in its territories, but VA loans cannot be used to buy property overseas.

Read More: Questions And Answers About VA Home Loans

Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS)

What is the military’s Basic Allowance for Subsistence, informally known as a Subsistence Allowance or BAS? This is a tax-exempt military allowance designed to offset the cost of a service member’s meals. BAS, also known amongst some service members as “separate rations” or more derisively as “separate rats”, is a callback to the days of old when the United States Military and other military forces offered both room and board for its troops.

BAS is offered when the federal government declares that an assignment or duty location warrants the allowance due to a variety of factors which can include the availability of kitchen facilities for service members to use, the cost of food or food-related expenses for the service member, and whether or not the command feels it’s practical or necessary to provide BAS.

BAS Is for Service Members Only

BAS is offered to the servicemember only. Family members (spouses included) do not qualify for BAS as this is an allowance designed to offset any associated food costs with a new duty station, deployment, duty-related travel, etc.

BAS is based on the most current food cost estimates made by the federal government via the USDA Food Cost Index, and the rate of payment is based on your status as an officer or enlisted member.

BAS is one of the rare cases where military pay and allowances are actually higher for enlisted members. Officer pay is considerably higher than enlisted pay; officers are thought to be better able to afford their day-to-day living expenses as a result. That is why enlisted members get more food dollars. Like most military allowances, BAS is subject to annual adjustments based on the anticipated increases in food costs from year to year. But the BAS increase you get is not tied to the same factors used to determine military pay raises each year; these are separate processes.

Read more: Military Allowances Guide

GI Bill

The GI Bill is one of the most important and most-used military benefits. This option is open to currently serving, retired or separated, Guard and Reserve members and even some dependents. GI Bill options for active duty service members include the ability to transfer the GI Bill to a spouse or school-age dependent child.

You are required to serve a minimum time in uniform before you can apply for GI Bill benefits. For those on active duty today, the minimum is typically 90 days, but that may vary depending on when you joined the military.

Read More: Am I Eligible for VA Education Benefits?

The GI Bill pays tuition, fees, and other expenses at participating schools. You may find the entire cost of your basic education is covered in some cases, and in others, you may need supplemental assistance from options like the Yellow Ribbon Program, state veteran education resources, etc.

Read More: The Yellow Ribbon Program and how it can enhance your GI Bill.

Not all GI Bill options are the same. If you signed up for the Montgomery GI Bill, for example, you do not have the option to transfer your benefits to a spouse or school-age dependent. If you signed up for the Post 9/11 GI Bill you may have the option to do so but there may be an added service commitment required in exchange. Some may be offered the opportunity to switch from the Montgomery GI Bill to the Post 9/11 version. Once you make the switch, it is irreversible.

Read More: GI Bill Facts and Fiction

There were many changes to the GI Bill thanks to a piece of legislation known as the Forever GI Bill, which is a law and not a separate, new GI Bill option all by itself. The Forever GI Bill changes the way benefits may be transferred and used, how Post 9/11 GI Bill housing stipends are paid, and more.

Read More: How the Forever GI Bill Changed Your Military Education Benefits

There are GI Bill options for members of the Guard and Reserve, and the requirements for these troops differ from those on active duty. It’s good to know your options long before you want to use them as a member of a Reserve component.

Read More: Veteran Education Benefits Guide

Other Military Education Benefits

Military Education Benefits

Branch-specific tuition assistance programs and on-base education options include:

  • Air Force Tuition Assistance
  • Army Tuition Assistance
  • Navy Tuition Assistance
  • Marines Tuition Assistance
  • Coast Guard Tuition Assistance
  • National Guard Tuition Assistance
  • Reserve Tuition Assistance

These programs are offered to those who meet minimum time-in-service requirements and other criteria. For example, the Air Force paid 100 percent of tuition, up to $250 per semester hour, and $166 per quarter hour for accredited off-duty courses.

The rules for each Tuition Assistance program will vary depending on the branch of service; in the case of the Air Force, no more than 124 semester hours may be funded toward an undergraduate degree and no more than 70 semester hours may be funded toward a graduate degree. Some military tuition programs specify that only one degree per degree level (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) may be funded.

All military tuition assistance programs have minimum grade point average requirements and those who fail to maintain satisfactory progress may be required to pay back some or all tuition assistance depending on circumstances. This type of assistance may not be offered to troops with disciplinary issues, failed fitness tests, or other problems.

Read More: How To Use Military Tuition Assistance

Education Benefits for Disabled Veterans

There are also military education benefits offered specifically to help disabled veterans. These are typically offered at the state and local levels. You may find that these programs are administered in some cases by veteran service organizations and in others by a state government agency such as a state-level Division of Veterans Affairs or Department of Veterans Affairs (not the federal agency).

The features, qualifications, and application requirements of these programs are NOT standardized and will vary depending on the state, the agency, and other factors. In some programs, it may be the veteran and/or dependents who benefit, in others, it may be the veteran only, or the spouse alone. In others benefits may be offered only to dependent children of qualifying service members.

Read More: Education Benefits For Disabled Veterans

Healthcare

The basic rule of thumb for military healthcare: those currently serving on active duty enroll in TRICARE for health coverage for themselves and immediate family members. In general, active duty service members and their families do not receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, though some service members are encouraged to begin working with the VA as soon as they have obtained retirement or separation orders.

Active duty members and their families may be treated at an on-base medical facility or an off-base facility that is within the service member’s TRICARE network. Overseas your options may be more dependent on the on-post treatment options provided, but this is not necessarily true in all cases. Much depends on where you are stationed, for how long, and the nature of your assignment.

  • TRICARE
  • On-base medical care is an option for servicemembers and their families.

There are a variety of TRICARE options including:

  • TRICARE Prime
  • TRICARE Select
  • TRICARE Prime Overseas
  • TRICARE Select Overseas

TRICARE may be an option for some qualifying military retirees. Those who are retired or separated have the option of applying for VA healthcare options which may depend on the applicant’s medical condition, any VA-rated service-connected medical issues, and more. When you are an active duty military member transitioning out of military service you may have the option to get temporary TRICARE coverage when separating, dependent care included.

Read More: TRICARE Benefits: A Comprehensive Guide

Life Insurance (SGLI)

If you are currently serving, you are eligible to apply for Servicemembers Group Life Insurance or SGLI. This benefit does require you to make a minimum monthly payment that is set based on the amount of life insurance coverage you opt into up to $400,000.

At press time, the highest monthly payment is listed as $25 per month for the maximum coverage for $400k. SGLI payments are automatically deducted from your base pay amount each month. You must meet eligibility requirements to sign up for SGLI. This benefit is for service members only and does not provide life insurance coverage for any member of your family. This is a “contingency” type benefit that provides a life insurance payout to your surviving beneficiaries if you die while covered.

Read More: Who Is Eligible For SGLI?

If you are retiring or separating from military service, you have the option to continue this life insurance coverage under a different program called Veterans Group Life Insurance or VGLI.

You become eligible to apply for VGLI within a year and 120 days from your date of discharge. You may apply for an amount up to the same coverage you had through SGLI.

Travel Benefits

  • Space-A Travel (active duty Space A)

Space-A travel is an option for active duty military members, family members, and retirees. Short for “Space-Available”, Space-A is an option that lets you apply for empty seats on military aircraft flying missions approved for extra passengers.

Space-A flights originate from military bases and you sign up for seats on these flights at the base military passenger terminal or online at the official site for that terminal or command. You may be permitted to sign up via e-mail or online.

Some Space-A flights are dedicated back-and-forth trips between military bases in a specified area, others may be added to the Space-A roster last minute based on changes to a mission or its requirements.

Signing up for Space-A travel means you must have authorized leave paperwork if you are a military member, and there is seating priority on all Space-A flights requiring mission-essential travel to be prioritized first, followed by passenger categories from Category I (those on Emergency Leave orders) all the way down to Category Six, which includes:

  • Retirees
  • Dependents
  • Reserve members
  • ROTC, NUPOC, CEC
  • Veterans with a total Permanent Service-connected Disability
  • Surviving Spouses of Service Members who died on duty

Space-Available travel is a great perk of military service but seats are never guaranteed to non-mission-essential personnel. You must be prepared to fully cover the cost of a commercial flight back to your duty station if you cannot get a seat on a Space-A flight.

Space-A flights typically originate and end at an on-base airport or runway. You won’t fly into a commercial airport, and you’ll be responsible for your own travel once you are shuttled off of the runway or allowed into the passenger terminal.

Read More: Space-A Travel: Everything You Need To Know

Paid Vacation/Military Leave

You’ll earn 30 days a year plus some holidays, starting in your first year. Servicemembers accrue leave at a rate of 2.5 days per month and you can carry a maximum of 60 days of leave into the new year. Any amount above 60 days is considered “use or lose” time. In some circumstances, additional leave accrual beyond 60 days may be authorized such as during COVID-19 when travel and movement became severely restricted.

Military members may, on a case-by-case basis, be permitted by their chain of command to take leave in excess of what they have saved up. For example, if you have 30 days of leave and take 35 days (with prior authorization) you may be permitted to do so with the caveat that you cannot take MORE leave until you have earned it in full. This is sometimes known as “advance leave” and functions a bit like an advance in your pay (in spirit, not in practice).

Advance leave is commonly reserved for those who need to “resolve urgent, personal, or emergency situations” according to the DoD.

Advance leave is limited to the minimum necessary and is typically limited to the lesser of the following:

  • 30 days
  • The amount of leave that can be earned during the remaining period of active service
  • If serving on an extension, accrued prior to the member’s date of separation.

Read More: How Military Leave Works

AAFES, Commissary Access

Military members and their families have access to many perks of military life including the ability to shop on base or on-post tax-free at Army/Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) outlets, base commissaries, “Class Six” liquor stores where available, gas stations, and much more. Depending on which branch of service is responsible for a given post or installation, you may find options including:

  • AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service)
  • MCX (Marine Corps Exchange
  • NEX (Navy Exchange Service Command)
  • CGX (Coast Guard Exchange)

Exchanges are basically like big-box retailers like Target or Walmart. You’ll find a similar variety of options there including clothing (military clothing sales, too!), electronics, household items, and sometimes even motor vehicles.

Not all amenities are offered at all installations, but the bigger the base the more elaborate the options are likely to be. To enter an on-base commissary, Base Exchange (BX), Post Exchange (PX), or other facilities you must show a current military ID card, dependent ID card, etc. You may be carded for all purchases on post to verify your status as an authorized user but that is a small inconvenience.

Read More: Commissaries And Exchanges: What You Need To Know

Tax Support

There are a number of free tax support options for military members and their families. MilTax is a military-centered tax software program that walks you through a list of questions to determine which military-related tax issues may be present for the current year’s tax filing. You access MilTax through the DoD-funded Military OneSource official site.

There is also an option you can use on-post if offered there; the VITA Program, also known as Volunteer Tax Assistance. While this is not offered at every single military base in the DoD, it is offered at many of them and you can use a VITA locator to see which bases closest to you offer the option.

Read More: Free Tax Support For Military Members

Military Benefits for Spouses And Dependents

Some military benefits for spouses and dependents are available regardless of the involvement or status of the service member. Others may require the participation of the service member (transferring GI Bill benefits, for example) or require troops to apply through the chain of command or other processes on behalf of the spouse or dependent.

In other cases, such as with medical care, you may only have to provide your current military spouse or dependent ID to get, use, or continue to use the benefit.

  • Education Benefits (including GI Bill transfer)
  • Home loans
  • TRICARE
  • Career assistance
  • Spouse Employment Preference On Base

Education Benefits for Military Spouses and Dependents

There are a variety of education benefits for military spouses. Some benefits are not provided by the military, but by private enterprises, Veteran Service Organizations, or other non-government entities. This section features military education benefits for spouses provided by the federal government.

They include Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits which must be transferred from the servicemember’s name to the dependent or spouse. This can only be done while the servicemember is still under a military service commitment and a new service commitment must be made for the GI Bill benefits to be transferred.

Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) is a DoD-funded resource military spouses can use if they want to plan a return to academia. SECO features a variety of resources including a scholarship finder and there is a MyCAA Scholarship worth up to $4,000 for qualifying spouses looking to return to school. You’ll find SECO at the MilitaryOneSource official site.

The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship is offered to qualifying spouses and children who are survivors of one of the following circumstances:

  • Active-duty service members who died in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001;
  • Selected Reserve members who died from a service-connected disability on or after September 11, 2001

Discuss the Fry Scholarship with a representative of your selected school or institution. Not all schools are approved for this program and you’ll need to determine if the opportunity is available before you discuss applying for the Fry Scholarship with your admissions counselor

The VA Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) is a federal program offering education and training to qualified dependents of vets who are either permanently disabled due to military service or who died on active duty as a result of military service.

  • Are permanently and totally disabled because of a service-related condition, or
  • Died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition

Discuss VA DEA with a representative of your selected school as not all schools are approved for this program. It’s best to determine if DEA is an option option to you before you discuss applying for DEA with your admissions counselor

Read More: VA Survivors’ And Dependents’ Educational Assistance

Home Loans for Military Spouses

The VA Loan program offers no-money-down, low-interest home loans to qualifying servicemembers. It also allows service members and spouses to apply for a VA mortgage together, treating the loan application differently than if a veteran and a non-veteran who is not a spouse were to apply together.

There is no VA home loan option for the spouse alone. There are exceptions in cases where the service member has died. In such cases, the qualifying criteria include at least one of the following:

  • The Veteran is a prisoner of war (POW)
  • The Veteran is missing in action (MIA)
  • The Veteran died while in service or from a service-connected disability and you didn’t remarry, or
  • The Veteran died while serving, or from a service-connected disability. In such cases you must not have remarried before you were 57 years old or before December 16, 2003, or
  • The Veteran had been totally disabled and passed away.

If you are claiming VA home loan benefits as a surviving spouse, you will need to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs directly if you assist with the application, VA Form 26-1817 Request for Determination of Loan Guaranty Eligibility—Unmarried Surviving Spouses.

Read More: Questions and Answers about VA Home Loans

TRICARE Benefits for Military Spouses and Dependents

Active duty service members are required to enroll in a TRICARE plan that is based on the location of their duty station. TRICARE Prime and TRICARE Remote are the stateside plans, and TRICARE Prime Overseas and TRICARE Prime Remote Overseas are the basic plans the servicemember can choose to enroll their spouse and/or dependents in.

Read More: TRICARE Basics

Family members also have the option to select other TRICARE options based on the location they are in. Those options include, but may not be limited to:

  • TRICARE Select is described as a “self-managed preferred provider organization (PPO)” plan offered to those in the United States
  • US Family Health Plan is offered in select locations only. This is described on the TRICARE official site as “an additional TRICARE Prime option available through networks of community-based, not-for-profit health care systems”.
  • TRICARE For Life is described as “Medicare-wraparound coverage for TRICARE-eligible beneficiaries who have Medicare Part A and B.”
  • TRICARE Select Overseas offers “comprehensive coverage” for those in overseas locations.

There are more flexible options offered to spouses and dependents, likely because it’s understood that some may already have health care options through an employer or school; the additional healthcare options for spouses and dependents are designed to accommodate this depending on the plan and the nature of your coverage.

Read More: TRICARE For Spouses And Dependents

Career Assistance For Military Spouses

There are multiple types of career assistance for military spouses, starting with spouse hiring preference. The Department of Defense has a federal hiring preference program aimed at military spouses, but if you have not explored your options for this preference recently you may not be aware of certain changes to the program that benefit all applicants.

Prior to 2019, the DoD used something called the Priority Placement Program to register military spouses so they may claim their federal hiring preference. But that program entered the sunset phase in 2019 and no longer operates. Does that mean there is no longer a preference program? No.

The replacement option, known as Military Spouse Preference or MSP, is described by the Defense Department as a “special federal hiring authority that allows spouses to be noncompetitively considered” for federal positions. MSP does NOT require an in-person appointment to get started, unlike the previous PPP option.

Now, military spouses simply identify themselves as candidates for MSP when they apply for federal work using USAJobs.gov. This is an advantage for spouses who know they will be going overseas soon but don’t know what assignment yet.

MSP also eliminates a past requirement limiting applicants to a single “occupational series”. You can now choose any job that offers MSP, rather than being limited to a specific area of expertise.

This is not the only career assistance type benefit offered to military spouses. Other options include the USO Pathfinder Transition Program which offers professional development options for military spouses that can be used “throughout the duration of military service as well as in preparation for life post-military” according to the USO official site.

The U.S. Department of Labor offers TEAMS or Transition Employment Assistance for Military Spouses and Caregivers. This typically consists of employment workshops to help military spouses meet their career goals.

TEAMS workshops are instructor-led virtual training, provided as stand-alone training. modules. You can take all of the workshops or just a few and they can be taken in any order that fits your availability and schedule.

There are also options for military spouses who accompany active duty service members to overseas duty locations, including spouse hiring preference. To apply for preference at an overseas base, contact the Human Resources office at the base and explain that you need information on spouse hiring preference policy for that installation.

Read More: Overseas Military Spouse Career Options

Child Care

The Department of Defense offers affordable child care access to military and DoD-affiliated families. These programs are offered at military bases around the world, and while not every single base has child care options (forward deployed, remote assignments, and hardship assignments for example) the majority of troops and their families may be able to take advantage of these DoD child care options.

Options include:

  • Child Development Centers
  • Family Childcare
  • “24/7 Centers”
  • School Age Care facilities
  • The “Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood” program

Who Is Eligible for Military Child Care?

Military affiliation is one of the requirements for military child care. Children enrolled in a DoD program must be the dependents of “eligible sponsors” including parents who are active duty military, DoD civilians, Guard/Reserve members who are on orders, Gold Star spouses, and many others.

Childcare costs are assigned based on household income, which makes this a benefit that can make a big financial difference for junior enlisted troops. Signing up for military child care means contacting the base Child Development Center where you are stationed or where you will be reassigned to.

You can use a DoD search tool at MilitaryChildCare.com to locate military child care options anywhere offered in the world, and you’ll want to do this as soon as you get PCS orders as demand for military child care is high and waiting lists typically apply.

The sooner you get your name on the waiting list the sooner you can get access to affordable military child care.

School Age Care facilities are offered on many military installations; these programs are for those in kindergarten through sixth grade. Care is available before and after school, and even for non-school days and summer vacations. Many of these programs are run from base youth centers or Child Development Centers, and all are certified and accredited.

Many military bases feature other after-school options and other programs for school-age children who are too old for Child Development Center care. These programs vary depending on the base but in general, you may find options including:

  • Installation youth center programs
  • 4-H Military Partnerships
  • Defense Department summer camps
  • Military Kids Connect (a website designed to celebrate military youth and help them cope with military life)

Read More: Military Childcare Basics

Military Benefits for Guard and Reserve Members

Some benefits require a minimum time in uniform to access, others may take effect immediately. The benefits for members of the Guard and Reserve differ from active duty benefits for a number of reasons, including the fact that these jobs are essentially part-time during much of the year unless there is a deployment, field training, unit activation, etc.

  • Pay and Allowances
  • Education benefits
  • Home loans
  • TRICARE
  • Job Certification
  • Retirement

Guard/Reserve Component Pay And Allowances

There are special pay and allowance options that may be offered to you depending on your rank, your career field, and other variables. When you join the National Guard or the Reserve, you make a part-time commitment to military service. That means your time commitment isn’t the same as an active duty soldier, sailor, airman, Guardian, Marine, or Coast Guard member.

That also means your pay is part-time, too. Naturally when a member of the Guard or Reserve is deployed, activated, or otherwise called to active service, the pay changes to active duty, too. But while you serve under “normal conditions” during peacetime, your service is limited to weekend drills, active duty for training, and other activities as required.

If you need to know your state’s National Guard pay rates, you can check the official site of your state’s National Guard, or you can check by branch of service. For example, the Air National Guard official site features a pay calculator to help you estimate your National Guard earnings in advance. (Scroll down to Pay Calculator.)

Guard/Reserve Education Benefits

The Montgomery GI Bill is an option that was offered at one time to all new recruits. Today that program has been replaced by the Post 9/11 GI Bill but some may still qualify to use the MGIB-SR:

You may qualify for the MGIB-SR if you’re a member of one of the following Reserve Components:

  • Army Reserve
  • Navy Reserve
  • Air Force Reserve
  • Marine Corps Reserve
  • Coast Guard Reserve
  • Army National Guard
  • Air National Guard

The following must all be true for you to qualify:

  • You have a six-year service obligation in the Selected Service OR;
  • You are an officer in the Selected Reserve serving six years (that is in addition to your initial service obligation) AND;
  • You meet what the VA calls “ other requirements” which may include finishing initial active duty for training (IADT), and you are in good standing in a Selected Reserve Unit.
  • Your obligation must have started after June 30, 1985, or for some types of training after September 30, 1990.

If you qualify for the GI Bill under any of these circumstances, you’ll want to learn more about your options to use these benefits–you can make an appointment with a college admissions counselor or contact the VA directly to learn more about what is possible.

In addition to the GI Bill, you may also qualify for Military Tuition Assistance from the Guard/Reserve, though not all branches of service offer the benefit to reserve component members. Where offered, you may find that 100% of your tuition expenses are covered for classwork totaling $250 or less per semester hour or the equivalent.

Read More: GI Bill Facts and Fiction

Guard/Reserve VA Home Loan Benefits

VA home loans are offered to those who serve enough qualifying time in the Guard or Reserve (see below). There are major advantages to using a VA home loan as a Guard member or Reservist. One of these is the no-money-down mortgage option. Another is the fact that you cannot be penalized for early payoff of the mortgage (including refinancing) and you cannot be required to purchase a home that appraised lower than the asking price even if you have paid earnest money.

Who qualifies for a VA mortgage among members of the Reserve Components? Those who:

  • Served for 90 days or more on active duty during a wartime period, OR
  • Were discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability, OR
  • Have six years of service in the Selected Reserve or National Guard, AND were honorably discharged, placed on the Standby list or transferred to Standby Reserve or Ready Reserve, or who continue in the Selected Reserve.

Read More: Best Practices for the VA Loan Process

Guard/Reserve Health Care and Insurance

Members of the Guard and Reserve may be eligible for TRICARE. You are required to create or maintain an account on the Defense Manpower Data Center or MilConnect to verify eligibility for TRICARE Guard/Reserve plans such as Line of Duty Care, Active and Inactive care, and options for those who are retiring.

Read More: TRICARE for Guard and Reserve Members

Furthermore, members of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) may have the option to purchase dental coverage but typically do not qualify for other TRICARE benefits unless on active duty orders OR recently deactivated.

Read More: Guide To TRICARE

Guard/Reserve Job Certification

Depending on the branch of military service, the nature of your career field, and whether you serve in the National Guard or the Reserve, you may be offered job certification that is related to your military job. For example, the Army National Guard offers certification in areas that include:

  • Certified Defense Financial Manager (CDFM)
  • Six Sigma Black Belt (SSBB)
  • CompTIA Security+
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP)
  • EMT/Paramedic
  • Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)

The nature of military service in the National Guard means that the state where you serve plays an important part in the nature of your benefits in this area. Not all states offer the same funding or certification options.

The situation is different for Reservists as these troops operate on the federal level rather than the state level. That means benefits for Reservists are more standardized. They also depend on the branch of service you are in; Air Force Reserve job training is more focused on mission-essential needs but you may find that the AF Reserve offers help with student loans and other civilian-based opportunities.

Guard and Reserve Retirement Benefits

Those who serve enough “creditable years” of military service in the Guard or Reserve may become eligible to apply for a military pension and become military retirees.

Unlike those who serve on Active Duty for 20 years who get to start enjoying retirement pay immediately once they have “dropped papers”, members of the Guard and Reserve must wait until they reach a certain age to start receiving military retirement pay.

Read More: Retirement Pay for Guard and Reserve Members

Military retirement for National Guard and Reserve members has changed thanks to laws passed in the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. The Act in part reduced the age those in the Ready Reserve can start receiving retirement pay.

Normally the retirement age is 60, but now, your retirement age is lowered by three months for every 90 days of active duty after 28 January 2008. Further changes in 2015 allow that 90-day period of active duty to stretch over two successive fiscal years.

Drawing retirement pay is NOT automatic. You must apply for it and be approved for it.

Benefits for Those Who Have Retired or Separated from Military Service

There are benefits for military retirees, and benefits for veterans who have separated from the military without retiring. Those who retire typically have more options than those who separate but that doesn’t mean a lack of certain options for those who separated before getting enough time in service to apply for retirement.

Military retirees draw a pension after performing the minimum amount of military service, which is 20 years at press time. Military retirees in the Guard and Reserve have different rules for “getting their 20” or earning 20 “creditable years” toward military service but a retirement check is definitely possible for those who serve part-time.

Read More: Retirement Pay for Guard and Reserve Members

Those who separate from the military without hitting their 20-year service mark are typically not offered retirement pay unless they have taken an early retirement offer that is sometimes provided in times when the military is trying to “draw down” or reduce its troop numbers.

But those who separate but do not retire still have certain benefits offered to them. Both retirees and those who return to civilian life without retiring may be eligible for a variety of benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. They can include, but may not be limited to:

There are other benefits. One important one for some? Those who have retired or separated are now permitted to live with their families in private on-base housing in the United States. Overseas locations are not included, but for those using this option in the USA, you will pay rent at a rate based on the local Basic Allowance For Housing.

Why is this allowed? More and more on-base housing is being privatized or has already switched to a public/private arrangement.

Government housing contractors are permitted to rent these homes to those who have retired or separated when sufficient vacancies exist. This option is not available at all bases, and the contracts may be limited to a year, depending on circumstances.

VA Disability Compensation for Military Retirees

VA disability compensation for military retirees works the same as for those who did not retire but separated from military service. You must make a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and submit medical records, service records, and supporting documentation.

There is no separate track for military retirees for this process. But being eligible to draw a military pension has in the past been problematic for those who also seek VA compensation for service-connected disabilities. Why?

Because until 2004, retirees were not allowed to draw both military retirement and VA compensation. Those eligible for both had to choose which to receive. Starting in 2004, there was a VA transition that eventually ended in 2014. Today you are permitted to receive both payments concurrently. 

There is no need to apply for approval to receive both, those eligible to do so get both payments automatically once the paperwork for each is completed and approved.

Military retirement pay is NOT the same as a VA pension, which is described below.

VA Pension

Regardless of whether you retired or separated from the military, you may qualify for a VA pension if you meet certain requirements. You must meet some basic requirements to be considered, which include not having a Dishonorable discharge and meeting basic income and net worth limits.

There are other considerations. To be approved for a VA Pension, you must have:

  • Started active duty before September 8, 1980, and you served 90 days or more on active duty with at least one day served during a wartime period. OR;
  • Started on active duty (enlisted) after September 7, 1980, and served at least 24 months OR the full period you were ordered to serve on active duty with at least 1 day during wartime. OR;
  • Started as an officer on active duty after October 16, 1981, and you had not served previously on active duty for at least 24 months.

And finally, to qualify for a VA pension at least one of the following must apply to you:

  • You are 65 years old or older.
  • You have a permanent and total disability.
  • You’re a patient in a nursing home for long-term care due to a disability.
  • You’re getting Social Security Disability Insurance.
  • You’re getting Supplemental Security Income

Eligible wartime periods for the VA Pension include, as described on the VA official site, the following:

  • Mexican Border period: May 9, 1916, to April 5, 1917
  • World War I: April 6, 1917, to November 11, 1918
  • World War II: December 7, 1941, to December 31, 1946
  • Korean conflict: June 27, 1950, to January 31, 1955
  • Vietnam War era: November 1, 1955, to May 7, 1975,  August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam.
  • Gulf War era: August 2, 1990, through a future date to be set by law or presidential proclamation.

If you need to register for a VA Pension, fill out the online forms at the VA official site. The Department of Veteran Affairs offers a “pre-filled” form that populates some (but not all) of the application fields with information based on your account information with the VA.

You can save the application as you go but there is a time limit; you have 60 days from the start of your application process to the time you submit–after 60 days your application is deleted and you must begin again.

To apply you must gather any supporting medical evidence needed for your claim, and you will need to supply your medical records, financial information, history of military service, your Social Security Number, and any supporting evidence to reinforce your claim.

VA Pension Versus VA Compensation

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers qualifying veterans a choice between drawing a VA pension and collecting VA compensation for service-connected medical issues.

The basic differences include the fact that VA pension benefits are for those who served during wartime and the pension is need-based, where VA disability pay is offered to all who have qualifying service-connected medical issues no matter when they occurred in peacetime or wartime. Eligibility is not need-based, but is determined by the nature and severity of the medical issues.

The VA official site reminds in no uncertain terms: you cannot qualify for VA pension payments and disability compensation at the same time. The Department of Veterans Affairs will pay you whichever amount is greater, but not both.

VA Medical Benefits

Whether you have retired or separated, if you intend to make a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs for compensation due to a service-connected injury or medical condition, you will need to formally apply with the VA.

There are procedures you will need to follow, evidence to collect, and records to gather. The basic claim process does not change based on your status as a retiree or as someone who has simply separated from military service.

Read More: Five Tips for Applying for VA Disability Benefits

VA Home Loans

Like some other VA benefits, the opportunity to apply for a VA loan is not contingent on you being a retiree versus having separated from the military without retiring. We mention this frequently in this section; it would be easy to assume that since military retirement pay is contingent on serving 20 years, other benefits might be as well. This is NOT true of VA loans.

VA mortgages require a minimum amount of time in uniform. They do not require a 20-year military career and junior enlisted qualify for the same VA mortgage options after they have served the required time the same as high-ranking career military members.

Retirees and veterans who did not retire are free to explore their VA loan options. VA loans allow you to use your military retirement pay, VA compensation for service-connected medical issues, and your civilian job where applicable to qualify for the mortgage.

What you cannot do, regardless of your status as a currently serving military member, veteran, or military retiree, is to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill housing allowance as qualifying income. We mention this only because some don’t realize this is true and make their immediate post-military plans based on potential income that won’t be counted toward VA loan approval.

Read More: Questions and Answers about VA Home Loans

VA Counseling And Career Support

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a Transition Assistance Program or TAP aimed at those who are about to retire or separate from military service. The VA official site notes that about a quarter of a million service members make the switch from serving to civilian life each year.

TAP includes help one year from your retirement or separation date and there is a full day of VA-specific transition assistance offered through the program VA Benefits And Services. The VA official site describes this training as including “interactive exercises, real examples, and covers topics important to you like family support, disability compensation, education, and health care benefits.”

Transition Help For Women Veterans

There is also a health-related VA TAP program specifically for women veterans through an online, self-paced option called Women’s Health Transition Training. Offered to those currently serving and retired/separated alike, this option is available online and you can subscribe to the VA Center for Women Veterans emails for more information and updates about upcoming Women’s Health Transition Training course opportunities.

Chapter 36 Benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers veterans and military retirees a program called Personalized Career Planning and Guidance (PCPG). Also known simply as VA Chapter 36 benefits, you may qualify for educational and career guidance, planning, and resources under this program.

If you qualify for the GI Bill, you may qualify for Chapter 36 benefits. Other requirements include:

  • Being discharged under “conditions other than dishonorable” from active duty within six months. OR;
  • Being separated from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable not more than 1 year ago. Or;
  • You are a Veteran or service member eligible for VA educational assistance. Or;
  • You are a service member, Veteran, or dependent eligible for VA education benefits.

Under Chapter 36, you may qualify for career counseling, help finding a new path of study, and readjustment counseling that can help you make the transition from military member to veteran student. There is also resume support and career planning help offered under Chapter 36.

You can apply for these benefits in three ways; in person at a VA office, online using VA Form 28-8832, or you can apply online at the VA official site via Login.gov.

Applying online requires you to complete an initial questionnaire to determine the proper form for you as a veteran, active duty service member, retiree, etc.

Veteran Readiness and Employment (Chapter 31)

Military retirees and other veterans with service-connected disabilities that affect the ability to hold or find a job may qualify for the Department of Veterans Affairs Veteran Readiness and Employment program.

These benefits are sometimes referred to as Chapter 31 benefits or VR&E. You can apply for VR&E through the VA official site; to qualify you must have a VA disability rating of at least 10% and you must not have received a Dishonorable discharge.

Being approved for a VR&E program requires you to have at least one day of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits remaining. Using VR&E benefits does not count against your GI Bill benefits.

Apply for VR&E benefits online, in person at a VA office, by calling the VA, or use a Veteran Service Organization.

Read More: What Are Veteran Service Organizations?

Veteran Healthcare Readjustment Services

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers transition care including mental health services for qualifying veterans who are transitioning from military to civilian life. The VA official site says it assigns VA Liaisons for healthcare at all major military medical treatment facilities to help in transitioning from military care to civilian care.

VA.gov says that since 2003, “VA Liaisons for Healthcare will meet with you early in your transition to ensure access to VA health care at the appropriate time in your recovery and rehabilitation process” where applicable. Not all veterans may need or require this support but it is available when needed at VA facilities nationwide.

 

 

Veteran Education Benefits Guide

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers military education benefits are for active duty, veterans, spouses, and dependents. But these benefits may vary, depending on your circumstances.

If you have retired or separated from military service you have options that may not be open to other applicants, or you may have benefits that active-duty servicemembers also enjoy but not in quite the same way. What do you need to know about your military education benefits to get started?

Veteran Education Benefits: An Overview

As someone who has retired or separated from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, your options for education assistance may include:

  • Education benefits from the Department Of Veterans Affairs
  • Education benefits from state or local governments
  • Private military education programs and grants

Typically, guides like these start with the best-known programs and work their way down the list to the least well-known options.

If you are recently retired or separated, you may know some of your VA options already thanks to final-out processing briefings and seminars. In this guide, we’ll list some of the more obscure options first to help you quickly find resources you might not have thought of initially.

Private Veteran Education Programs, Grants, and Scholarships

The best-known veteran-friendly agencies such as the DAV, VFW, and American Legion often offer scholarships, grants, or other financial assistance for qualifying veterans.

Some of this assistance may be offered to those with qualifying service-connected medical issues, some may be offered to those who served during specific eras such as the Gulf War or the Vietnam War.

Other assistance may be offered to any qualifying applicant on a first-come, first-served basis regardless of a medical condition, eras of service, etc. Some examples of these privately-funded opportunities for veterans include:

  • AMVETS offers educational assistance for veterans who want to attend an accredited college, university or technical school. You must have no convictions for drug-related offenses and you are required to complete an essay to apply.
  • The American Legion has in the past offered financial assistance to members of the society who are veterans pursuing undergraduate studies at an accredited college or university.
  • The Pat Tillman Foundation offers financial assistance to veterans and active-duty military who can meet both merit-based and eligibility-based criteria. This college education assistance for veterans requires the submission of two written essays in addition to the other criteria.

Veteran assistance with VA benefits may be offered by Veteran Service Organizations such as

  • Vietnam Veterans Of America
  • Voluntary Service Overseas
  • Navy Mutual
  • AmVets
  • Blinded Veterans Association
  • Veterans Of Foreign Wars (VFW)
  • Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
  • The African American Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Association
  • American Legion

You can find a large directory of Veteran Service Organizations at the VA official site. Not all VSOs offer education benefits, but many do.

Read more: What Is A Veteran Service Organization?

Military Aid Societies

Military aid societies are generally private, non-profit, tax-exempt organizations working on behalf of their members. These societies include tuition assistance and college fund options for qualifying applicants.

Not all programs offer the same options, and not all of them offer financial aid for veterans. Options may change depending on funding issues, mission demands, program changes, or federal regulations. The following are all good examples of relief societies that may offer or have offered veteran financial aid in the past.

  • The Air Force Tuition Assistance Program
  • The Navy College Fund
  • The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
  • The U.S. Army’s Survivors and Dependents Assistance Program

This is by no means a comprehensive list–there are too many privately-funding programs to list here. One important resource to use in your search for such programs? Your state-level veterans’ affairs office.

You can find this on your state government’s official site and these pages often list state and local-level education resources for veterans as well as typical pages listing state government services, locations, etc. Find your state’s Department of Veteran Affairs office.

Read More: Military Aid Societies And Education Benefits

State/Local Veteran Education Programs

Every state in America has an official site that lists programs, services, and other help for those who need to deal with state government. Many cities and municipalities have official sites, too.

These websites may have valuable information about veteran education grants, scholarships, in-state tuition options for veterans attending from out-of-state, and more. You will typically find these benefits (at the state level) at the official page for that state’s Department of Veterans Affairs (not the federal agency found at VA.gov).

This entity may be known as a Division of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Veterans Affairs, or simply as the Department of Veterans Affairs (again, a state entity and not the federal one). A short sampling of such official sites includes but is definitely not limited to:

As mentioned above, you can find your state Department of Veterans Affairs office at the VA official site.

Each state will have its own official site and typically has a veterans resources page including any current education benefit or links to those benefits. State benefits vary greatly. Some states are incredibly stingy in their veteran education benefits while others are fairly generous.

Vermont, for example, offers education benefits to members of the National Guard but at press time no other options seem to be available directly from the state. For all others, the state official site (at press time) refers veterans to a third-party private entity, the Vermont Student Assistance Program.

Compare that with the Illinois Veterans Grant which pays for tuition and fees for qualifying applicants who lived in Illinois when they entered military service or who have become state residents since leaving (a time limit for relocation to the state may apply.)

This grant can be used in conjunction with the GI Bill or on its own and may be useful for saving or extending the GI Bill benefit. It’s not the only state-level grant of its kind but your experience may vary depending on which state you live in or entered military service from.

Read More: 10 Careers with Education Programs Under One Year

Education benefits From the Department Of Veterans Affairs

For veterans, there are many options to choose from; some choices are made while still serving (Montgomery GI Bill or Post 9/11 are choices some vets have had to make while still serving) and some are options that may be open to you depending on the nature of the education and training you seek.

Not everyone wants a traditional four-year degree; there are options for technical training, pilot training, OJT, apprenticeships, and much more, as we’ll discover below.

  • The GI Bill including the Post 9/11 and the Montgomery GI Bill.
  • Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) also known as Chapter 31 helps veterans learn about their employment, education, and training options.
  • Educational and career counseling through Chapter 36 benefits includes free educational and career counseling if you are leaving active duty.
  • “Other educational assistance” programs offered by the VA.

Read More: Do I Qualify For VA Education Benefits?

Montgomery GI Bill Benefits

The Montgomery GI Bill is an option for those who entered active duty after June 30, 1985 and opted into the program. This version of the GI Bill offers 36 months of basic VA education benefits depending on how long you served, the type of education you seek, and the category of your military service. Different lengths of service may qualify for pro-rated Montgomery GI Bill benefits.

The Montgomery GI Bill features no housing stipend, has no ability to transfer the benefit to a spouse or dependent, and is generally more limited than the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Those who qualified for this option were offered the chance to switch to the Post 9/11 version; once a choice has been selected it cannot be undone but many did opt into the Post 9/11 GI Bill instead once the option was available.

The Montgomery GI Bill came in multiple versions including one for active duty and one for Guard/Reserve members. Even though the active duty version is identified as such, a veteran who no longer serves on active duty uses the active duty version of the program; Reservists who have retired or separated use the Reserve component version of the GI Bill.

The Montgomery GI Bill is closed to new applicants; those serving today are enrolled in the Post 9/11 GI Bill. It is not possible to apply for this benefit at press time.

Read More: The Montgomery GI Bill

Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits

The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides 48 months of education benefit for those who served on or after September 10, 2001. This program includes payment of tuition and fees, a housing stipend paid while you attend classes, and the ability to transfer your GI Bill benefit to a spouse or dependent school age children.

Some of your benefits are paid based on your attendance as a fulltime student, half-time student, etc. You apply for these benefits through the VA official site, or in person at any VA Regional office

You may qualify for this program if one of the following applies:

  • You served at least 90 days on active duty on or after September 11, 2001;
  • You received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001 and received an Honorable discharge;
  • You served for at least 30 continuous days and received an Honorable discharge and have a service-connected disability;
  • You’re a dependent applying for transferred VA benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill program.
  • You were in the Reserves and lost education benefits when the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) ended in November 2015-restoration of benefits may be possible.

Some qualify for both the Post 9/11 and Montgomery GI Bill. You are allowed to use only one of these programs for your qualifying period of military service.

GI Bill benefits may expire depending on when you joined. For example, if you retired or separated before January 1 2013 you have 15 years to use your Post 9/11 GI Bill. If you retired or separated on or after January 1 2013 your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits do not expire.

Read More: Veterans and Predatory Student Lending

How to Apply for the Post 9/11 GI Bill

You can apply for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits online by filling out the questions under “How Do I Apply on the VA official site.” You will be taken to the appropriate online form based on your answers to the questionnaire. You may also apply by mail. Call 888-442-4551 and ask that the VA send a GI Bill benefit application to you. Once you complete the form, mail it to the VA regional claims processing office closest to your selected school.

You can find a list of VA regional claims processing offices in the United States.

You can also get in-person help at any of these offices, work with an admissions representative at your school, or get help from a Veteran Service Office (see above).

Read More: GI Bill Facts and Fiction

A Word About The Forever GI Bill

The Forever GI Bill is legislation that changed the nature of the GI Bill program; it is NOT a standalone GI Bill option you can choose instead of the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Read More: How The Forever GI Bill Changed Your Military Education Benefits

The Yellow Ribbon Program

The Post 9/11 GI Bill includes an option for those with qualifying military service who are at the 100% level for their GI Bill benefit, meaning they served the entire minimum qualifying time on active duty to become eligible for the benefit.

The Yellow Ribbon program is designed to offset the cost of attending an approved private school with tuition above and beyond what the GI Bill program can pay for–the Yellow Ribbon program can help pay for higher out-of-state tuition, too.

Not all schools participate in Yellow Ribbon. You will need to ask your admissions counselor if the school you have selected is eligible and participates. And not everyone qualifies for this program. In general, you must meet one of the following:

  • You served at least 36 months on active duty with an Honorable discharge;
  • You received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged;
  • You served 30 continuous days on or after September 11, 2001, and were discharged for a service-connected disability;
  • You’re a dependent transferred benefits;
  • You’re a Fry Scholar;
  • You’re an active-duty service member who qualifies at the 100% level as of August 2022;
  • You are a spouse using transferred GI Bill benefits.

Yellow Ribbon benefits are limited depending on the school; you may find the program is administered at your institution of higher learning on a first-come, first-served basis, and applying early may be best. You will need to speak to an admissions representative at your chosen school to learn if that institution participates in the Yellow Ribbon program.

The participating school, not the VA, decides if new applicants can be admitted and how much Yellow Ribbon funding is available to use in a given semester or term.

Read More: The Yellow Ribbon Program

 

Find Yellow Ribbon Schools and more at CollegeRecon!

 

VA Dependent Education Program (VA DEA)

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers the DEA program to qualifying dependents and surviving spouses of military members who have died, are missing, or are prisoners of war. The formal name of this program is the VA Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program, it is also referred to as Chapter 35 benefits and is offered to those who meet VA criteria. Dependent children qualify if they meet the following:

  • Typically must be between the ages of 18 and 26
  • If the dependent joins the military they may not use this benefit on active duty.
  • Dependents may have their eligibility extended due to military service, but that extension typically won’t last beyond age 31.

For spouses:

  • DEA benefits start on the date of the Veteran’s death or as the VA determines the start date. They will last for 10 years.
  • If the Veteran is VA-rated as permanently and totally disabled, “with an effective date that’s 3 years after discharge from active duty” a spouse may qualify for benefits for 20 years.
  • If the service member died on active duty, VA DEA benefits end 20 years from the date of death.

DEA benefits are available to most who start using them today for up to 36 months. Those who started using VA DEA before August 1, 2018, had 45 months of benefits.

Read More: The VA Dependent Education Program

Veteran Readiness and Employment (Chapter 31)

Veterans who have a service-connected disability that limits the ability to hold a job or seek employment may qualify for the Department of Veterans Affairs Veteran Readiness and Employment program also known as Chapter 31 benefits or VR&E. You can apply for VR&E through the VA official site. Typically this benefit is for veterans but under certain circumstances, you may qualify for VR&E while still on active duty as we’ll examine below.

To qualify for VA VR&E benefits and services, you must not have received a Dishonorable discharge, and you have a VA disability rating of at least 10%.

In some cases you may have a time limit to use this VA benefit program; if you left active duty before January 1 2013 you have 12 years to use VR&E benefits from either your separation date or the date you received your first VA disability rating.

Your VR&E eligibility may qualify for an extension if you have what the VA defines as a “serious employment handicap”

VR&E applicants who left active duty on January 1, 2013, and after do not have a time limit for VR&E benefits. Some applicants may still serve on active duty while applying for VR&E benefits and services as long as they mee3t certain criteria:

  • You have a 20% or higher pre-discharge VA disability rating known as a memorandum rating and are due to retire or separate;
  • You’re waiting to be discharged because of a service-connected medical issue that happened on active duty.

VR&E Services

You may be entitled to the following VR&E services under the program:

  • A job skills/interests evaluation;
  • Professional or vocational counseling for employment;
  • Employment services such as job training and resume development,
  • Special employer incentives
  • VR&E “job accommodations”
  • On-the-job training
  • Apprenticeships
  • Volunteer or non-paid work experiences
  • Post-secondary education and training
  • Case management
  • Counseling
  • Medical referrals
  • Independent living services

If you’re participating in a VR&E program and you qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill (you only need a single day of remaining entitlement to qualify for this) you may be offered the GI Bill subsistence rate instead of the Chapter 31 subsistence allowance rate. This is true when you have at least one day of remaining GI Bill entitlement left AND you are still within any applicable GI Bill eligibility period. Expect to be required to “officially choose” the GI Bill subsistence rate to take advantage of this benefit.

Using VR&E benefits does not count against your GI Bill benefits.

You can apply for VR&E benefits online, in person at a VA office, by calling the VA, or you can use a Veteran Service Organization (see above) such as the DAV, AmVets, etc. to help you apply. If you apply online you will take a survey that will direct you to the proper online form for your needs.

Apply by mail with VA Form 28-1900, Application for Vocational Rehabilitation for Claimants with Service-Connected Disabilities, and mail it to:

Department of Veterans Affairs
VR&E Intake Center
PO Box 5210
Janesville, WI
53547-5210

Educational and career counseling (VA Chapter 36 Benefits)

VA Chapter 36 benefits, also known as Personalized Career Planning and Guidance offer help and resources for veterans who qualify for VA education benefits.

If you have left active duty within the last 12 months you may qualify for career counseling, educational counseling to help you select a school, and readjustment counseling to help you transition from the military to civilian life. You can also get help with your resume and career goals using Chapter 36 benefits.

You can apply for these benefits in person at a VA office, online using VA Form 28-8832, or you can apply online at the VA official site via Login.gov. Applying online means using an initial questionnaire to determine the proper form for you as a veteran, active duty service member, etc.

Once you apply for Chapter 36 benefits, the VA will contact you to set up a meeting with a VA Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor “to find out if you have an employment handicap and if you’re eligible for VR&E benefits and services” according to the official site..

The VA definition of an employment handicap includes conditions where “your service-connected disability limits your ability to prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment” that does not make the condition worse and is in line with career goals, skills, etc.

Read More: MySECO: 4 Reasons Military Spouses Need to Take Advantage

Other VA Educational Assistance

The Department of Veterans Affairs has other educational benefits including the Edith Nourse Rogers Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) Scholarship. This scholarship can help extend Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits for those working toward STEM-related degrees or a teacher’s certification. You may qualify for this program if:

  • You are enrolled in an undergraduate STEM degree program;
  • You are enrolled in a qualifying dual-degree program;
  • You’ve earned a post-secondary degree in an approved STEM field and are enrolled in a covered clinical training program for health care professionals;
  • You earned a graduate degree in an approved STEM degree field and are enrolled in a covered clinical training program for health care professionals;
  • You’ve earned a post-secondary degree in an approved STEM degree field and are working toward a teaching certification.

You can use this benefit to pursue programs including, but not limited to:

  • Agriculture science
  • Natural resources science
  • Biological science
  • Biomedical science
  • Computer and information science
  • Engineering, engineering technologies, or an engineering-related field
  • Health care or a health-care-related field
  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Medical residency (undergraduate only)
  • Physical science
  • Science technologies

Apply online for this program using the VA online questionnaire to direct you to the proper digital form.

VET TEC

There is a Department of Veterans Affairs program called Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC)  which offers benefits to help you start or continue a high-tech career if you qualify for the GI Bill.  You may qualify for VET TEC if all of the following apply to you:

  • You aren’t on active duty OR;
  • You are within 180 days of separating from active duty, and
  • You qualify for the GI Bill, and
  • You have at least one day of unexpired GI Bill benefits, and
  • You are accepted into an approved program

VET TEC does not count against your GI Bill entitlement. You can apply for VET TEC online using Login.gov or ID.me. You can also get help from a Veterans Service Organization.

There is an alternative to the Montgomery GI Bill called the National Call to Service program offering alternative VA education benefits to those who completed boot camp and any required advanced training and then “continued to serve on active duty for 15 months in a military occupational specialty designated by the Secretary of Defense”.

In addition to that requirement, applicants must also have served an additional enlistment or commission (service commitment times may vary) OR agreed to serve an extra two years in the Selected Reserve on active status.

If you qualify for the National Call To Service Program you may be eligible for ONE of the following benefits:

  • A cash bonus of $5,000,
  • Repayment of a qualifying student loan up to $18,000, or
  • Educational assistance equal to the 3-year monthly rate of the Montgomery GI Bill paid for 12 months, or
  • Educational assistance equal to 50% of the ”less-than-3-year monthly MGIB rate” according to the VA. This is payable for 36 months.

You can apply for these benefits via Login.gov. This is a program administered by the VA on behalf of the Department of Defense.

Read More: Managing Your VA Benefits Online

 

 

 

How The Forever GI Bill Changed Your Military Education Benefits

The GI Bill is one of the most popular military benefits. Created to help service members returning from World War Two, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the “GI Bill of Rights” created a program with features that we know today as the GI Bill.

At press time, there are multiple versions of the GI Bill, including the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and the changes made through the Forever GI Bill.

There have been many changes to this program over the years including the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The Forever GI Bill refers to changes to the GI Bill program enacted through the Harry Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, commonly known as the “Forever GI Bill.”

Today, most who serve (Active, Guard, Reserve) become eligible for benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill after serving on active duty for 90 days after September 10, 2001. The clock on your GI Bill eligibility may start counting after basic training and technical training, so don’t expect to use your GI Bill benefits right away once you start your career in uniform. Much may depend on how much training you must do before you are given your first active duty assignment.

If you haven’t explored your GI Bill benefits in a while, it’s a good idea to stay current on the latest program changes, and there have been many. GI Bill benefits are more accessible than ever but knowing your entitlement is half the battle when it’s time to plan and budget for your college career. You can get help from an admissions counselor but you may also contact the Department of Veterans Affairs directly for assistance with your GI Bill benefits.

The Forever GI Bill

The Forever GI Bill is not a brand new version of the program. Instead, this legislation makes key changes to the program meant to enhance and expand certain benefits, consolidate others, and make the program as a whole more user-friendly.

One example, one change to the GI Bill made with this Act allows students to apply for restoration of their GI Bill entitlement if the school they used the benefit at closed while they were attending.

Another change that makes the entire program more user-friendly is the elimination of a 15-year time limit to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill. This applies to those who retired or separated from military service on or after January 1, 2013.

GI Bill Housing Allowance

The VA official site lists the following about who can use the GI Bill with the monthly housing stipend based on DoD BAH rates.

“Those who first use the Post-9/11 GI Bill on or after January 1, 2018, will receive a monthly housing allowance based on the Department of Defense BAH for monthly housing rates.”

Expansion Of The Yellow Ribbon Program

The Yellow Ribbon Program was created to help GI Bill users pay for higher education costs at approved private colleges, out-of-state schools, and even schools overseas. The Yellow Ribbon Program covers the “above-and-beyond” costs the GI Bill does not pay for. In general, to qualify for Yellow Ribbon funds you must be able to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill at the 100% benefit level and at least one of the following must apply to you.

  • Minimum military service of at least 36 months on active duty with an honorable discharge or;
  • You were awarded a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged, or;
  • Minimum military service of at least 30 continuous days (all at once, without a break) on or after September 11, 2001, and you were “discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability” or;
  • You’re a dependent using benefits transferred by a veteran or:
  • Eligibility to be a Fry Scholar

The big change to the Yellow Ribbon program? On August 1, 2022, the Yellow Ribbon Program includes expanded eligibility for active duty service members who qualify at the 100% GI Bill benefit level and for spouses using transferred GI Bill benefits of an active-duty service member who qualifies.

Forever GI Bill Changes For Dependents

Under the Forever GI Bill, GI Bill recipients who transferred their GI Bill benefits to a dependent can now designate a new dependent if the original dependent dies. In cases where the veteran dies, the VA official site states, “a dependent who received transferred entitlement can now designate a new eligible dependent” and transfer any remaining GI Bill entitlement to a different eligible dependent.

Another change; Chapter 35 DEA benefits, also known as Survivors’ & Dependents’ Educational Assistance program; a reduced entitlement for DEA users from 45 months to 36 months. This applies to anyone who uses DEA starting in August 2018; those who used DEA before this time qualify for a maximum of 45 months.

Forever GI Bill Changes For Guard And Reserve Members

Some of the important changes in this bill affect those serving in the Guard and Reserve, including authorization for GI Bill benefits under Title 10 U.S.C.

The VA loan program was changed overall to allow a prorated housing allowance for those who leave active duty service. Prior to this, those who left active duty could not draw a housing allowance until the next full month after leaving active duty.

This change is meant for all active duty including Guard and Reserve members who are called to active duty. Under the new guidelines, it is possible to receive housing stipend payments on the day of discharge.

The Forever GI Bill also allows Guard and Reserve members to be credited for any time ordered to active duty to receive medical care. This is effective for all ordered to active service, “to receive authorized medical care, to be medically evaluated for disability, or to complete a Department of Defense health care study on or after September 11, 2001.” All that active duty time now counts toward Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility.

REAP Eligibility is now used as a credit for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. REAP, also known as the Reserve Educational Assistance Program, was closed and there were Guard and Reserve members who lost REAP benefits as a result. If you had REAP eligibility prior to November 25, 2015 and lost it due to the “REAP sunset”, you can choose to have that military service applied toward the Post 9/11 GI Bill instead.

Forever GI Bill Changes to Licensing and Certification Testing Payments

Under the Forever GI Bill, the benefit paid for those taking licensing tests or certification training is prorated to match the actual fee charged for the exam. This was intended to reduce the overall cost of providing these payments.

Forever GI Bill Options for Those Awarded the Purple Heart

Those awarded a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, may be eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits at the 100-percent benefit level for up to 36 months. There is also an extension of the Yellow Ribbon Program (see above) allowing Purple Heart recipients to use Yellow Ribbon funds.

Forever GI Bill Options for Those In STEM Programs

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers an additional nine months of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to those in STEM studies. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

You will need to talk to a counselor at your school to learn whether the STEM option is available at that institution, and what it may require to apply for and receive the additional nine months of benefit. You can also call the Department of Veterans Affairs to get more information on STEM options under the GI Bill. Remember, this benefit is open to those using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, you may not have the same option under the Montgomery GI Bill.

 

 

Exit mobile version