Written by: Samantha O’Neil, Communications Specialist, Veterans Benefits Administration
If you’re new to VA, it can be overwhelming to sift through all of the benefits and services offered and choose which ones are best for you and your family. For new Veterans, service members planning for the future and those Veterans needing a short refresher – we’ve put together a quick “How To” Guide for VA benefits, including where to look for more information.
VA benefits can be split into two general categories – health care and non-medical benefits like compensation, education and home loans. If you served on active military service and were separated under any condition other than dishonorable, you may qualify for VA health care benefits. Post-9/11 Combat Veterans (OEF/OIF/OND) are eligible for five years of cost-free care for illness and injury related to service and one-time dental care.
The second category, non-medical VA Benefits is broken into six areas: Compensation, Education, Home Loans, Insurance, Pension & Fiduciary; and Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment.
Compensation: If you’ve read, watched or tweeted the news lately, you’ve probably heard that VA’s disability claims process is currently undergoing a major Transformation, including more than 40 new initiatives designed to decrease processing time and increase accuracy and service for Service members, Veterans, their families and survivors. We are moving towards an electronic, rather than a paper-based system and towards the goal of eliminating the Veterans disability claims backlog and improving rating accuracy to 98% in 2015. The new Fully Developed Claims Program is the fastest way to get your compensation or pension claim processed.
Education: Many Service members choose to use VA’s education benefits shortly after leaving service or choose to pass the benefits to family members. In addition to undergraduate and graduate degrees, the Post-9/11 GI Bill offers financial assistance for a variety of training programs, including: vocational/technical, on-the-job, flight and licensing/certification programs. In addition to tuition and fees, you may qualify for a monthly housing allowance and book stipend. If you are currently using education benefits – look for a Vet Success on Campus program at your school to connect with other student Veterans and a variety of services, including free tutoring. A new VA program, Veterans Retraining and Assistance Program (VRAP) offers 12 months of training to unemployed Veterans 35 to 60 years old.
Home Loans: Another frequently used VA benefit is the guaranteed home loan and refinancing assistance. VA also offers special grants for disabled Veterans to adapt and acquire housing suitable for their needs.
Insurance: Service Members and Veterans Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage recipients have two options available to them upon release from service: converting to the Veterans’ Group Life Insurance program or a permanent plan with one of the participating commercial insurance companies.
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment: VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program assists Veterans with service-connected disabilities to prepare for, find, and keep suitable jobs. Benefits include vocational counseling, on the job training and apprenticeships.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully it gives you a better sense of the variety of different benefits VA offers, and how learning more about just one area – from education to home loans and compensation to health care; could have a major impact on the lives of you and your family. If there are topics you’d like to learn more about, let us know in the comments section.
We’ll offer a more in-depth look at a few key areas of VA benefits in this blog over the next few months. In the meantime, get involved in VA’s large and active online community, including the VAntage Point blog (which is always looking for guest bloggers), GI Bill Facebook page and variety of Twitter accounts, including for each VA Medical Center. We hope you will join the conversation online – asking questions about your benefits, helping us improve service and benefits delivery and engaging other Veterans in taking advantage of their benefits.