The Department of Veterans Affairs has a partnership with an organization called the Association of Military Banks of America (AMBA) to provide a special program for vets called the Veterans Benefits Banking Program.
This arrangement is designed to help veterans and the beneficiaries of veterans better manage finances and take advantage of financial services offered to vets via participating banks.
The partnership creates expanded options for those receiving VA benefits by direct deposit, plus financial resources including protection against identity theft. According to a press release about the partnership on the VA official site, U.S. vets and their families, “should have as many financial management and services options as possible.”
The way the program is discussed at the VA official site and elsewhere may have some believing that this is a program you need to sign up with via the VA official site; however, our research shows that the program requires you to sign up at a participating bank, not the VA.
The participating bank decides which offerings it chooses to present as part of the program, so you will need to ask a bank officer or customer service rep what options are available under VBBP.
A VA blog post says the program’s key points include offering vets “the opportunity to deposit their benefit funds directly into existing or new bank accounts offered by participating AMBA member banks” even if they have never done so before.
Reasons To Partner Up
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA pays just under $120 billion in benefits and services for vets and beneficiaries. These payments can include:
- Disability compensation
- Education benefits
- VA Home loan guaranty
- Vocational rehabilitation and employment
- Life insurance
- Transition and economic development
VA stats include mention of roughly 250,000 Veterans and beneficiaries who are paid VA benefits through a pre-paid debit card or paper check and do not use a bank account for such payments. This is a concern to the VA and AMBA; one the program is meant to address, as mentioned above.
The Veterans Benefits Banking Program (VBBP)
The Department of Veterans Affairs oversees VBBP and acts as the main point of contact for questions and issues related to the program. But it does not act as the clearinghouse for signups or applications. That is up to the member banks, and if you want to apply for VBBP, you will need to discuss your account options with one of the member organizations.
The partnership between the VA and AMBA is due in part to AMBA’s uniqueness in the industry; it’s the “only trade association representing banking institutions specializing in providing banking services for military personnel,” according to VA.gov.
Searching for specific details about the program can be frustrating. At the time of this writing there is plenty of general information about what VBBP is supposed to do, but specific details are left to the banks.
The VA official site says by taking part in the program, participating financial institutions will “offer eligible Veterans federally-insured and regulated financial products, services, and education that can be tailored to their needs and the needs of their families.”
VA.gov provides some basic information, reminding vets that payment options for VA benefits include:
- Direct deposit into an existing bank account
- Electronic funds transfer onto a Direct Express prepaid debit card
- Paper checks only for certain pre-approved beneficiaries
VBBP is said to introduce “new financial resources” and promises to “expand these offerings by giving Veterans more choices, and it addresses issues some Veterans experience using the payment methods currently available to them.”
These “new financial resources,” in the course of our research, did not seem fully explained at the official sites for the program during our visits. Under the About VBBP Section under the What We Do Subhead, this is what consumers will learn:
- VBBP has a goal to “simplify banking choices by helping eligible Veterans select the right bank and services for themselves and their families.”
- VBBP VA beneficiaries “choose among the three available options for receiving VA monetary benefits” which include direct deposit into an existing or new bank account, electronic funds transfer to a Direct Express prepaid or other prepaid cards, electronic funds transfer, or mailing of paper checks to pre-approved beneficiaries,” unquote.
- VBBP “simply introduces banking options to eligible veterans” who do not currently have bank accounts.
But for specific services, you will need to work with a participating financial institution (see below).
The Frequently Asked Questions list at the VBBP official site does include mention of this: “All banks have an application process…Each bank has its own account application process.” This information is, unfortunately for newcomers to the program, buried in the third page of the FAQ list.
Signing Up For VBBP
Signing up for VBBP means first identifying yourself as an applicant with or without a current bank account (or without a direct deposit arrangement for an existing account). Those who visit the VBBP page on VA.gov have the option to click “I Already Have A Bank Account” or “I Need A Bank Account.”
Clicking on “I Already Have A Bank Account” takes you to the VA Financial Literacy Page, but at the time of this writing, our research could not locate any further links to or mention of the VBBP program.
Those who click on “I Need A Bank Account” are taken to the main page of the VBBP official site. There are two “Find A Bank” links on this page, taking you to the current list of participating financial institutions. At the time of this writing, that list includes:
- Bank of America
- First Arkansas Bank and Trust
- Fort Hood National Bank
- Wells Fargo
No matter which of the list you prefer, you are prompted to click on a link to visit the bank of your choice. Clicking on the links takes you to the official site for that lender. Sometimes it’s a redirect to the main website, other times it may take you to a page full of specific new account options.
You will need to read these pages carefully, as they may not be specifically targeted at those who need or want VBBP services.
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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