Not all service members who retire or separate from the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps decide to start a new life in the civilian sector in the United States. Some decide to remain overseas, or return to a favorite overseas location instead of going back “home.”
What help, if any, is available from the Department of Veterans Affairs for those who decide to stay overseas? If you qualify for VA benefits but do not have access to a stateside facility, do you have options?
Fortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs anticipates this circumstance. Veterans who live overseas do so for a variety of reasons, and those who do “remain entitled to the benefits and services” earned with military service.
Important Considerations When Remaining Overseas
Those planning to remain or return to an overseas location after military service should take a holistic approach to their plans; this means thinking beyond your immediate needs post-military and consider long-term implications of remaining overseas. Especially where using your VA benefits is concerned.
Thinking long-term includes, for example, planning what you might do if you decide to purchase a home overseas. Did you know that you cannot use a VA home loan to purchase a house outside the continental United States or its territories or protectorates?
That means that you can use a VA mortgage loan to buy a home in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and elsewhere as supported by the VA. You cannot use a VA mortgage to purchase a home in Spain, Italy, Germany, etc. as VA loan benefits are not available outside U.S. jurisdiction.
It would be easy to assume that other VA benefits operate in a similar fashion, but this is not necessarily true. But you will need to know which VA benefits you can take advantage of in your chosen overseas location, and which ones may be harder to access.
How To Prepare To Use Your VA Benefits Overseas
This is an area that requires more planning and forward thinking than some anticipate; in some cases your access to VA benefits may be a matter of your physical location and any challenges there.
If you choose to live in Germany, where there is a network of U.S. military bases, military hospitals, and related support operations, you may have an easier time accessing some benefits than you might if you decided to relocate to Reykjavik, Iceland where U.S. military members were once stationed at nearby Naval Air Station Keflavik.
That facility was closed in 2006, received some attention in 2018 as certain submarine operations resumed there, but seems destined to remain closed for the most part at the time of this writing. There is no U.S. military support system in place in Iceland that could compare to what those remaining in Japan, Korea, Spain, Italy, or Germany might enjoy.
VA Resources For Veterans Living Overseas
The first thing a veteran or soon-to-be retired or separated military member should do is to visit the VA official site to set up an e-Benefits account, which you will use to manage your VA benefits in the United States or from the overseas location.
You will need to register at the DS Logon Registration page but rather than supplying your last military address, use your last recorded USA address Instead.
If you need to explore your VA options and have dependents without an assigned Social Security Number, you will need to take the following steps (as per the VA official site) in order to get started:
- Call or write the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) (1-800-538-9552)
- Have your dependent’s Foreign ID number available
- Get a Social Security Number (provided by DMDC
- Use that number for dependent registration via the VA eBenefits portal
Veterans In The Philippines
For veterans living in or considering relocating to the Philippines, the Department of Veterans Affairs has special resources. The VA Philippines overseas page includes some important details about getting VA benefits, especially health care.
In the Philippines, veterans may be eligible for care for ”non-service connected disabilities” at the VA Manila Outpatient Clinic. The VA says this option is only for veterans “who are already receiving care at the outpatient clinic and whether the clinic is able to provide the needed service.”
In such cases, the veteran may be required to pay for treatment “for non-service connected disabilities by non-VA care providers or by an outside medical facility.” For contact information, instructions on signing up, or basic details about any of the following VA services and/or programs, visit the VA official site at VA.gov and use the search tool to find forms and information on any of the following:
Foreign Medical Care
The VA offers medical services to veterans traveling or residing overseas (depending on location and other factors) via the VA Foreign Medical Program (FMP). VA FMP covers health care services, medications, and “durable medical equipment associated with a service-connected condition and/or aggravated condition” for eligible veterans.
The VA official site indicates VA “may authorize foreign medical services for any condition if you are participating in the VA Vocational Rehabilitation Program.”
Direct Deposit Of VA Benefit Payments
Arranging direct deposit into a non-US bank may require some additional preparation, and in some cases may require the use of a translator. If you have an overseas bank account rather than an account with a company headquartered in the United States, be sure to ask what is typical when arranging such direct deposit payments.
You may be required to obtain international routing numbers, SWIFT codes, International Bank Account Numbers, etc.
Once benefit payments are sent from the United States, the funds will become available based on the foreign bank’s processing times, processing policies, etc. Currency conversion issues for such money transfers may or may not apply depending on the country, the bank, and other variables.
VA Education Benefits At Foreign Schools
VA education benefits are offered to those interested in attending VA-approved foreign schools. The requirements are quite similar; the school must be approved, meet VA guidelines, the student “must meet the same basic eligibility requirements as for training in the United States,” according to the VA.
VA education benefits may be available to qualifying veterans from the following programs as listed at VA.gov:
- Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33)
- Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty (Chapter 30)
- Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve (Chapter 1606)
- Post-Vietnam Veterans Educational Assistance Program – VEAP (Chapter 32)
- Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (Chapter 35)
- Educational Assistance Pilot Program (Section 901)
- Omnibus Diplomatic Security & Antiterrorism Act
Visit the VA Foreign School Information for Students page for additional information or to sign up.
VA Specially Adaptive Housing Grants
While it is true that VA home loans cannot be used to buy overseas property, veterans who qualify for VA Specially Adapted Housing Grants may be able to use them overseas to rehab a home to be more accessible for veterans with certain service-connected medical issues.
VA rules for these grants require the applicant to have “a substantial ownership interest in the home to be adapted or built” and all adaptations or alterations to the home paid for by these grants must be VA-approved. The VA Specially Adaptive Housing page has information on eligibility and how to apply.
VA Resources For Veterans Living Overseas Or Planning To Do So
If you plan to or already have retired or separated from the military in an overseas location, there are VA resources waiting for you via phone, e-mail, and online:
- Basic VA benefit questions and assistance–(412) 395-6272 or visit the VA Inquiry Routing and Information System
- Education benefits–(918) 781-5678
- International Direct Deposit and currency conversion–(918) 781-7550 or via e-mail DIRECTD.VBAMUS@VA.GOV
- VA benefits representatives at American embassies and consulates–online at the Social Security Foreign Country Service Information page
- VA Overseas Military Services Coordinator–get contact information online at the VA Overseas Military Services Coordinators page
- Finding an accredited representative to help you manage your benefits–online at the VA Manage Your Representative for VA Claims tool
Other VA Resources For Veterans Living Overseas
VA Overseas Military Coordinators (OMSCs) can help service members, U.S. Veterans living or working overseas, and their families and dependents with VA Benefits transition to a life overseas. The following contact information is broken down by geographic region as presented on the VA official site:
- Vilseck-Bavaria, Germany
More information about VA benefits for Veterans living abroad
Medical Treatment Questions Only
VA Foreign Medical Program Office
PO Box 469061
Denver, CO 80246-9061
Education Benefit Questions Only
VA Regional Office
PO Box 4616
Buffalo, New York 14240-4616
Life Insurance Questions Only
VA Regional Office and Insurance Center
P O Box 7208
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19101
VA Home Loan Questions Only
VA Loan Eligibility Center
PO Box 20729
Winston-Salem, NC 27120
For overnight delivery:
VA Loan Eligibility Center
251 N. Main St.
Winston-Salem, NC 27155
Toll free number: 1-888-244-6711
For Vocational Rehabilitation And Employment Questions Only
VA Regional Office, Pittsburgh Regional Office
Benefits Claims (Except for the Philippines)
VA Regional Office
1000 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222-4004
Benefits Claims (Philippines)
Benefits and Medical Care
VA Regional Office:
1501 Roxas Blvd.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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