Do you think you know all the benefits of being a servicemember or military retiree? Take a look at these five programs. You might be overlooking a major service, education benefit, or training opportunity that could change your life and the contents of your pocketbook.
When Lt. Col. Guy Moon, ARNG, earned his first master's degree, he did so, as many active duty officers do, with tuition assistance. When he later decided to return to school for a second degree and was preparing to send his son to college, he didn't realize he had any of his education benefit remaining. “I discovered I had a full 36 months of benefit remaining under the GI bill,” says Moon, who now is an education services officer at Bellevue University's Military-Veteran Service Center in Kentucky.
Moon also learned he could transfer his Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to his son. “I balanced out how much of those benefits I would need and how much I would have for my son.” Today, Moon has two master's degrees, and his son, a junior at Bellevue, is taking advantage of his father's remaining benefits to pursue a degree in sports media technology.
According to J.R. Richardson, director of Military-Veteran Services at Bellevue, far too many benefits, such as the transferability of Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to immediate family members, go unused by servicemembers.
“Unless you reach out to get them,” Moon says, “You often don't even know they're there.”
What's out there that you could be taking advantage of now to increase your retirement income, get job training and education, or even get career assistance for your spouse? Here are some of the top overlooked benefits of military service:
- Transferability of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. While the VA funds and administers the GI bill, the Secretary of Defense allows servicemembers to transfer all or some of their education benefit to a spouse or children. According to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, DoD spokesperson, to be eligible, servicemembers must have served at least 90 days on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001. Benefits accrue on a sliding scale with time of service, though servicemembers are fully vested in the GI bill at three years. To transfer GI bill benefits to a spouse or child, servicemembers have to commit to another four years of service - active duty, or Select Reserve - and they must transfer some benefits to each of their dependents before separating or retiring. The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers tuition and fees, “though they cannot exceed the most expensive, in-state undergraduate tuition at a public institution of higher education,” Christensen says. Benefits also include a monthly living allowance equal to the basic housing allowance for an E-5 with dependents in the ZIP code for the school the spouse or child chooses to attend and $1,000 a year for books and supplies. (Note: Spouses are not eligible for the housing allowance while their sponsor is on active duty.)
- Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance. Even if a servicemember already has used his or her GI bill education benefits, his or her spouse or children still might be eligible for tuition assistance to earn a degree or certification, participate in an apprenticeship, or pay for job training. The assistance is available to spouses and dependents of servicemembers who are permanently or totally disabled as a result of service. It also is available to spouses and dependents of veterans who died from a service-related cause, are missing in action, or were interned by a foreign government while acting in the line of duty. Additionally, many state VA offices also offer tuition assistance for similar categories of dependents.
- Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts. Military spouses can receive up to $4,000 in tuition assistance to pursue an associate's degree, obtain job training or certifications, or secure professional licensure designed to help with employment in high-demand, portable career fields. Spouses of active duty servicemembers, including reservists and guardmembers, in pay grades E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2, or O-1 to O-2 are eligible.
- Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefit. Veterans and surviving spouses might be eligible for an additional pension benefit if they are disabled to the point of being unable to perform basic daily functions like bathing, eating, and dressing without the aid of another person or if they essentially are confined to their home because of a permanent disability. Beneficiaries must be eligible for a VA pension to receive the benefit, which can be as high as $2,000 a month. Veterans and survivors also might be eligible for the benefit if they are in a nursing home, are bedridden, or have vision problems equivalent to a corrected 5/200 in both eyes. For veterans whose service-connected disabilities require help with basic daily functions, it is possible to collect both disability compensation and Aid and Attendance benefits without regard to income. The application process can be complex, requiring detailed documentation of the applicant's disability and living situation. To apply, contact your local VA regional office and consult a veterans' service officer for free assistance. MOAA also offers a fact sheet and benefit counseling about Aid and Attendance.
- Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE). Not all military benefits come through DoD or the VA. Many, like V-WISE, come through the state or private institutions and require military service to participate. V-WISE is a three-phase training course in entrepreneurship for female veterans run by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University in New York. The course is designed for retired female servicemembers looking to pursue an entrepreneurial career and includes a 15-day online course, three-day on-site workshop, and assistance to female entrepreneurs in gaining access to local resources like SCORE, a nonprofit that helps small businesses, and Small Business Development Centers. The cost to participate is $75 plus transportation to the seminar. Lt. Lorraine Holmes Milton, USN (Ret), participated in V-WISE to help launch her post-military career as an author and says she was especially impressed by the seminar's participants, who included financial advisors, certified public accountants, attorneys, and even bankers who were readily available to start small business loan applications.
Richardson emphasizes many benefits are available to veterans that most don't even know about or understand. He urges active duty and retired military officers to make use of local resources to learn about and take advantage of these benefits. Many colleges and universities have Military-Veteran Service Centers, just as Bellevue does, and veterans service organizations like the Disabled American Veterans Organization and American Legion also are great resources.
Like many veterans, Milton has run into a lot of red tape with the VA and urges veterans to take advantage of agencies that are there to “champion veterans to obtain their rightful benefits.”