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Government Benefits for Returning Service Members/Veterans

U.S. military service members returning home often enter civilian life facing financial challenges they hadn't encountered while in the military. Many young men and women enter the military right out of high school and haven't had to hunt for a job or worry about wages, housing, or health care. Here are some benefits and programs offered by the government and other entities that may help returning veterans transition into civilian financial life.

Compensation and pension

Some service members may be eligible for military retirement pay based on their qualifying base pay and the number of years of service completed. Generally, the service member must have completed 20 years of service. The longer the period of service, the higher the retirement pay. Specific information on how retirement pay is calculated can be found at the Department of Defense website, www.defense.gov.

Health benefits

Veterans and separating service members (including their dependents, in some cases) may be eligible for health care based on a number of factors, including the nature of discharge (e.g., honorable, other than honorable, dishonorable), length of service, whether the veteran has sustained any service-connected disabilities, and income level. Some of the available programs are long-term, while others are temporary and provide transitional health-care benefits. For more information, go to the VA website at www.va.gov.

Retired service members and their qualified family members also may receive health-care coverage through the Department of Defense health-care program known as TRICARE. Service members may receive care either through military or civilian providers depending upon the availability of medical care at select military facilities and the TRICARE option chosen. For more information, see the TRICARE website at www.tricare.mil.

Education and training

The training service members receive while on active duty may not readily translate to marketable job skills in civilian life, so service members may want to go back to school for further education and training. Fortunately, service members and veterans may be eligible for education benefits under several programs. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is available for veterans who served in the military for at least 90 days aggregate after September 10, 2001 (or 30 continuous days, honorably discharged for a service-connected disability). Other benefit programs include the Montgomery GI Bill, the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP), and the Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP). Other programs include loan repayment and tuition assistance, scholarships, work-study, and tutorial assistance programs. For more information, visit www.gibill.va.gov.

Employment

Finding a job after leaving the military can be a frustrating experience. But several programs are available to help land the right position. The Department of Labor Veterans' Employment and Training Service in each state offers employment and training services to eligible veterans through the Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program and the Local Veterans' Employment Representatives Program.

Qualified veterans who have been honorably discharged receive an extra 5 points when passing any competitive examinations if they earned a campaign ribbon or spent time on active duty during certain periods. Qualified disabled veterans and veterans who were awarded a Purple Heart (and qualifying family members) can receive an extra 10 points on examinations. This means that the hiring preference for veterans doesn't guarantee a job to the veteran, but it does give the veteran a slight advantage.

Home loans

The VA guarantees loans to service members, veterans, and reservists who want to purchase a home, condominium, or manufactured home. The loan is issued by a financial institution but guaranteed by the federal government. The primary advantages of VA home loans are that they require no down payment and, because the loan is partially guaranteed by the federal government, no mortgage insurance payments. For more information on VA loans, visit www.homeloans.va.gov.

Life insurance

Service members are eligible for coverage under Servicemen's Group Life Insurance. Service members are automatically insured for $400,000 but can elect a lesser amount or decline coverage. However, this coverage terminates 120 days after you leave active duty. One option is to convert to Veterans' Group Life Insurance, but the premiums may be more expensive for a healthy veteran when compared to a commercial plan, especially group coverage that might be available through an employer.

The National Resource Directory is a government website that provides information and sources on topics such as benefits, education, employment, and housing for wounded warriors, servicemembers, veterans, and their families.