If you have recently joined the United States Armed Forces, or are thinking about joining the military, it’s important to examine your military benefits to make the most of your time in uniform. What are you entitled to as a member of the U.S. military in good standing?
Military Healthcare Benefits
Healthcare is one of the most important military benefits, and encompasses medical, dental, prescription drugs, and vision care. As a new military member, you will enroll in TRICARE, which is described on the TRICARE official site as “the health care program for uniformed service members” and their families. Active duty servicemembers and their families sign up for this military healthcare program with the following benefits for enrollment in a TRICARE Prime program:
- No enrollment fees.
- No in-network copays.
- Active duty service members receive no out-of-pocket costs.
- Active duty family members receive minimal out-of-pocket costs.
There are non-Prime TRICARE options available for family members, but those on Active Duty must choose between one of four Prime options.
The GI Bill® is one of the most well-known military education benefits, and depending on when you joined the service, there may be several versions available to you. For most joining the service today, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is an option for those who have “at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, and are still on active duty” as well as for those who are honorably discharged veterans.
This program is also open to veterans who were “discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days” according to the VA official site (www.va.gov).
The Yellow Ribbon Program is a benefit which, according to VA.gov, “allows institutions of higher learning (degree granting institutions) in the United States to voluntarily enter into an agreement with VA to fund tuition expenses that exceed either the annual maximum cap for private institutions or the resident tuition and fees for a public institution. The institution can contribute up to 50% of those expenses and VA will match the same amount as the institution.”
This protects GI Bill students from additional fees that may be required, above and beyond what the GI Bill can cover for a given zip code.
For currently serving military members, you may also be eligible for a service-specific tuition program such as Air Force Tuition Assistance or Army Tuition Assistance. These are designed for what is commonly known as “off-duty education” that is career or skills-related. Depending on the current state of these programs, there may be a tuition cap or other related issues that may affect your benefits, how they are paid, or how much you are entitled to receive.
VA Home Loan Benefits
For qualifying Active Duty, Guard and Reserve, military retirees, veterans, and certain dependents, the VA loan program offers help purchasing a home at a lower interest rate than many conventional loans, and with no down payment required in some cases. You must serve a minimum time in uniform, which varies depending on when you joined.
The VA Loan program is different than other military benefits – when you become eligible based on the VA loan time-in-service requirements, you are eligible to apply for a VA loan. You are not guaranteed loan approval-all VA loans are processed and approved the same as ordinary home loans. There will be a required credit check, employment verification, etc. The participating VA lender’s standards will apply in addition to VA loan program rules for eligibility and loan approval.
Life Insurance Benefits
When you enlist in the military, you become eligible for Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance or SGLI, which is made available to you upon enlistment. According to VA.gov, this automatic life insurance coverage is for $400,000, and there is an automatic coverage policy for dependent children and spouses. At the time of this writing, the basic SGLI premium rate is “7 cents per $1,000 of insurance” according to VA.gov.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers burial options for service members, including no-cost burial in a national cemetery, and private cemetery options which may include a government burial marker or headstone, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Those who choose a private cemetery may be eligible for a burial allowance depending on circumstances.
For national cemeteries, the VA advises, “Gravesites in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemeteries cannot be reserved in advance. You should advise your family of your wishes and where your discharge papers* are kept. These papers are very important in establishing your eligibility.”
A veteran’s dependents may also be eligible to be buried with the service member in a national cemetery, but for those who choose the private cemetery, this would not be an option.
Most people serving today will require some form of transition assistance when the time comes to switch from a career in uniform, to a new adventure in the civilian sector. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers Vocational Rehabilitation and the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to help.
According to the VA official site, part of TAP includes “…a series of modules that help you pursue your post-service goals and develop an individual transition plan to ensure that you meet the required career-readiness standards for separation”. TAP is run in partnership with a wide range of federal agencies including the Small Business Administration “Boots To Business” program.
Learn more about Military Transition Assistance