The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a long history of providing programs and benefits for those who have served in the armed forces. Many people believe the VA's benefits are geared only toward veterans or veterans with service-connected disabilities. But the VA also offers many benefits of which active duty service members and their families can take advantage. Read below for more information about these valuable benefits.
The GI Bill covers the cost of education and training programs, including undergraduate and graduate studies, vocational schools, and technical training. There are several different GI Bill programs available, but the newest chapter, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, is available to service members who served on active duty after September 10, 2001. Visit VA GI Bill to learn more about the following programs:
- Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. This program boosts the amount of tuition assistance offered by other GI Bill programs. The benefits cover the cost of tuition and fees, not more than the highest in-state tuition at a public institution of higher learning, for up to thirty-six months. Generally, benefits are payable for fifteen years after release from active duty. Service members who served at least ninety days on active duty after September 11, 2001 may be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. As of August 1, 2009, eligible service members must be on active duty, honorably discharged, or transferred to the Reserve. The benefit amounts are payable as a percentage based on your total time of active duty service.
- Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and other Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) programs. If you are eligible for one of the other GI Bill programs, such as MGIB-Active Duty, MGIB-Select Reserve, or Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) and you qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you may choose to receive benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. However, benefits under the other GI Bill program will cease and the election is irrevocable.
- Transfer to dependents. If you were a member of the armed forces on August 1, 2009, you may be able to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to your spouse or dependent children.
- Using your benefits while on active duty. You may use your GI Bill benefits while still on active duty (provided you have completed at least ninety days of active service). The tuition amount will be paid based on your time on active duty, with the full benefit being available after thirty-six months.
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 funded and processed through banks or mortgage companies. Visit VA Home Loan program or call the Loan Eligibility Center at 1-888-244-6711 for more information.
- Eligibility. Requirements for eligibility vary depending on the dates of military service. In most cases, you must serve at least twenty-four months of active service or the full period for which you were called to duty. To apply, you'll need to request a certificate of eligibility through your lender or through the VA.
- Benefits. Lenders generally put a cap on the amount they will lend on a VA loan. The VA loan limits change periodically and you may be able to secure a higher loan amount in a more expensive area (such as Hawaii). 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.
- Funding fee. A percentage of the loan -- from .5 percent for refinances to 2.15 percent -- is charged as a funding fee on a VA loan. The percentage is lower if you are making a down payment of at least 5 percent. The funding fee can be included with the loan.
Active duty service members, as well as Guard and Reserve members, can purchase up to $400,000 of life insurance through the VA's low-cost Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program. Visit VA Life Insurance for more information about the following:
- Eligibility. To qualify, you must be assigned to a unit in which you are required to perform active duty or active duty for training and will be scheduled to perform at least twelve periods of inactive duty creditable for retirement purposes. For all military members, including Reservists, the insurance coverage is in effect 365 days of the year.
- Cost. Life insurance coverage is available in increments of $50,000. Currently, the VA charges seven cents per month per $1,000 of coverage, regardless of the service member's age. For a $400,000 policy, your cost would be $28 per month.
- Beneficiaries. Don't forget to designate a beneficiary or beneficiaries to receive the proceeds of your life insurance policy. You can designate your beneficiaries by completing form SGLV 8286, Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance and Certificate.
- Life insurance for your family. You can purchase up to $100,000 of additional life insurance 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 (VGLI). If you remain in the National Guard or Selected Reserve 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 are able to take advantage of many of the same VA benefits traditionally reserved for veterans who have already separated.
- Automobile allowance for adaptive equipment. Service members with service-connected disabilities may be eligible for financial assistance to purchase or adapt an automobile to accommodate their disability.
- Adapted housing grants. The VA offers grants to help veterans and service members adapt their homes to accommodate their disabilities.
- Medical care. The VA works with TRICARE to ensure service members are getting the best medical care available for their disabilities. 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. More information is available at VetSuccess.
Through each Service branch's Transition Assistance Program (TAP), the VA offers briefings for transitioning service members. The outreach effort is intensified for those service members leaving active duty due to a medical problem. The VA's goal is to make sure that service members have a clear understanding of their benefits.
- Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) service members. For service members returning from OEF/OIF, Returning Service Members (OEF/OIF) offers detailed information on VA benefits for service members and veterans.
- Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP). Service members separating with medical disabilities are encouraged to attend a DTAP class, which is designed to cover all the services available to veterans, including the disability compensation process, the VA's medical services, and the vocational rehabilitation and employment program.