Don't let the name fool you— the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't just help veterans. It also offers many useful services and benefits for active duty service members and their families. If you need help covering the cost of school, securing a home loan, acquiring life insurance or require special medical care for a disability, the VA can help. These programs and benefits for veterans and service members are a way for the military to help you transition from the service, so it's worth taking a look while you're still on active duty.
The GI Bill® covers the cost of education and training programs, including undergraduate and graduate studies, vocational schools and technical training.
- Post-9/11 GI Bill®. Service members who served at least 90 days on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001 may be eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits, which cover tuition and fees for up to 36 months depending on how much time you served on active duty. Generally, you have fifteen years after leaving the service to use your benefits, and you may use them while you're still on active duty.
- Other Montgomery GI Bill® programs. If you are eligible for one of the other GI Bill® programs as well as the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, you may choose to receive benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill® instead.
- Transfer to dependents. If you were a member of the armed forces on Aug. 1, 2009, you may be able to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits to your spouse or dependent children.
Home loan guaranties
The VA's Home Loan Guaranty program helps service members secure competitive rates on home loans with little or no down payment. The VA guarantees a portion of the loan, but the loans are still funded and processed through banks or mortgage companies.
- Benefits. A VA-guaranteed loan can be used to buy, build, repair, improve, or refinance a home or condominium; buy a manufactured home with or without a lot; or install a solar heating or cooling system.
- Eligibility. In most cases, you must have served at least 24 months of active service or the full period for which you were called to duty in order to be eligible. To apply, you'll need to request a certificate of eligibility through your lender or through the VA; you can do this online through the VA eBenefits portal.
- Funding fee. A percentage of the loan - from .5 percent for refinances to 2.15 percent - will be charged as a funding fee. The percentage will be lower if you make a down payment of at least 5 percent.
Active-duty service members, National Guard and reserve members can purchase up to $400,000 of life insurance through the VA's low-cost Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance program.
- Eligibility. To qualify, you must be on active duty or scheduled for at least 12 periods of inactive training per year in the Guard or reserves. For all military members, including reservists, the insurance coverage is in effect all year.
- Cost. Life insurance coverage is available in increments of $50,000. Currently, the VA charges 7 cents per month per $1,000 of coverage, regardless of the service member's age, so for a $400,000 policy your cost would be $28 per month.
- Family life insurance. You can purchase up to $100,000 of additional coverage for your spouse and up to $10,000 of coverage for each dependent child through the VA's Family SGLI program.
- Conversion to Veterans' Group Life Insurance. If you remain in the National Guard or reserves after leaving active duty, you may keep your SGLI. When you leave the military, you may choose to convert your SGLI to VGLI.
Benefits for service members with disabilities
Service members with disabilities who remain on active duty may take advantage of many of the VA benefits that are traditionally reserved for veterans who have already separated.
- Automobile allowance for adaptive equipment. This allowance provides financial assistance to purchase or adapt an automobile to accommodate a disability.
- Adapted housing grants. These grants can help adapt a service member's home to accommodate a disability.
- Medical care. Many of the VA's medical programs for veterans with service-connected injuries and illnesses are also available to active duty service members. Visit VA Health Care for more information.
- Vocational rehabilitation and employment. Separating service members with disabilities may be eligible for vocational rehabilitation and employment services offered through the VA; check out Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment resources to learn more.
The VA gives a presentation to separating service members during transition classes and offers detailed information for Returning Service Members (OEF/OIF/OND). Service members separating with medical disabilities are encouraged to attend a Disabled Transition Assistance Program class, which is designed to cover all the disability benefits available to veterans, including the disability compensation process, the VA's medical services, and the vocational rehabilitation and employment program.
Visit the Veterans Benefits Administration to learn more about any of the programs