As a new military spouse, it can be hard to know what benefits you get and navigate through the system to ensure that you get them. To help with that, we've put together a guide on military spouse and family benefits to assist you through the process.
First, visit the Community Service Center which may also be referred to as the Family Support Center on some bases. You will get up-to-date information on the benefits you receive as well as your eligibility for services available to military families. At the Family Support Center/Community Service Center, you can also enroll in a spouse orientation program, which will walk you through becoming a new military spouse.
There’s some basic information that you’ll need to be aware of even after you’ve visited the Community Service Center and signed up for a spouse orientation program, specifically because this information can control when you receive the benefits you’re entitled to as a military spouse.
The Basics of Spousal Benefits
To file for benefits, your spouse must fill out all the necessary paperwork to make you eligible for the programs. You will need to have some necessary information and documents readily available. As part of this process, you’ll need to get an original copy of your marriage certificate from the city or town where the marriage took place.
As your spouse begins to work their way through the forms that are required for you to receive benefits, make sure that they add your name to the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, commonly referred to as DEERS. Both you and your sponsor need to be listed in the DEERS to receive benefits. DEERS is how the military verifies treatment and benefits for authorized persons at its facilities. Your spouse can enroll you at the nearest uniformed services personnel office.
The documents you need during the enrollment process are:
- A copy of your original marriage license or marriage certificate
- Your birth certificates and/or social security cards
- The birth certificates and social security cards of all your children or dependents.
Along with your registration to DEERS, you need to get a military ID card. In fact, all family members need an ID card. The ID card is only required for children over ten years of age. This ID card will get you onto the base, into the base exchange and entrance into the commissary. The military ID card is also required for you to receive medical care.
You'll need to check with the ID card facility to confirm what documents you need to submit to receive an ID card. Typically, however, the documents required are:
- The marriage license
- Your birth certificate
- Your photo ID/driver’s license
- A copy of Department of Defense Form 1172, which is the application form
Usually getting an ID is done as part of the DEERS registration process so that you can kill two birds with one stone in most cases. Once you get those first two steps done, there are some other things you should get done as part of getting acclimated to being a military spouse.
1. Establish yourself as your spouse’s power of attorney. The base or legal installation office can help you become your spouse's power of attorney. Do this as soon as possible rather than putting it off. Becoming power of attorney will allow you to conduct business on your spouse's behalf and get new ID cards if you, your spouse or your dependents misplace theirs.
2. Have your spouse name you as the beneficiary on their Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI) policy. SGLI is available to all active duty members of the US armed forces, as well as commissioned members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Public Health Service (USHS). Insurance is available in $50,000 increments, up to a maximum of $400,000 and service members receive coverage for 120 days from their date of separation.
3. Memorize your spouse’s SSN. Once you have completed all the necessary steps and paperwork, probably the most important thing you’ll need to do, aside from signing up for this or that orientation or support group, will be to have your spouse’s social security number memorized. Not only will you need to know it during the paperwork and filing process, but it’s also just good incidental information to have.
The Benefits of Being a Military Spouse
All members of the military receive base pay as part of their benefits. The base pay is then augmented by allowances, special pay or bonuses, which can depend on where they've been deployed, their job within the service and their pay grade. Service members that are married also receive two additional allowances for them and their dependents: Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as well as Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS).
Service members and their spouses can view their Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) to determine how much they’re receiving in income, as well as how that pay breaks down based on bonuses, allowances or special pay. While the LES might be a little confusing to read and understand at first, Military.com offers a tutorial that walks you and your spouse through the different portions of your LES.
Basic Allowance for Housing and Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAH/BAS)
BAH is available to all active-duty members on a bi-weekly basis as an additional section of their pay. The amount you receive depends on your sponsor's duty station — so if you reside at a location that is somewhere other than your spouse's duty station, you will still receive a BAH stipend based on his or her duty station and not your residence.
However, in some cases, your sponsor, your spouse, may be relocated to a duty station where you can't follow — a "hardship duty assignment." In this case, you can receive BAH based on where you choose to live instead of your service member's duty station. Speak to your local military benefits office if your spouse is deployed on a hardship duty assignment to adjust your benefits based on where you are located.
BAH is designed to take care of at least 97 percent of housing costs, not including things like renter’s insurance, and Basic Allowance for Housing is adjusted each year to account for changing housing markets and current economic status. If rates decrease where you’re living, you’ll be grandfathered in at the higher rate, but if they go up, you will receive that higher rate.
BAS is designed to offset the cost of a service member’s meals — not the cost of family members meals. As of 1 January 2002, all enlisted services members receive full BAS pay but need to cover the cost of dining meals. This practice originates from back to when the military provided room and board as part of the member’s pay. BAS rates reflect the current prices of food and are adjusted each year for increases and decreases in prices stated through the USDA’s price index.
Spousal and Family Healthcare
All active-duty military families receive benefits through Tricare, which is the military's health care service. Tricare is not an insurance company, but it does help families receive health care services and pay their medical bills, as necessary.
There are two kinds of Tricare programs available to active-duty, reservist and medically-retired military families: Tricare Standard and Tricare Prime. Tricare Standard offers the most flexibility, with a fee-for-service option that allows beneficiaries to see any Tricare-authorized provider. Tricare Prime offers fewer out-of-pocket costs, but there’s less flexibility and freedom when it comes to choosing providers. You can decide with your family if Tricare Standard or Tricare Prime is best fitted for your needs.
Dental insurance is available to military families through United Concordia. The dental insurance plan is available throughout the continental United States as well as overseas.
To be eligible for dental insurance, your sponsor must have at least 12 months left on their enlistment at the time of enrollment. Registrations open in 12-month chunks, with eligible dependents including spouses and children up until the age of 21. If your child is a full-time student they can stay on the United Concordia plan until age 23.
Many military bases offer either full-time or hourly daycare centers, which are costed out based on the family’s total income, not just the service member’s pay grade. When you are searching for daycare programs or determining your family’s eligibility you must remember to calculate your total family income. Since many programs are determined by the pay of your service member it is easy to forget this step.
However, waiting lists for such services can often be pretty long, so the military also allows the use of officially-approved in-home day cares, which are also then subsidized. The military will also fund daycare costs at certain off-base or civilian day cares that have become part of their network, which is especially useful for those cases where there are no on-base childcare spots available or for when you and your spouse no longer live on base.
In addition to BAH, BAS, healthcare, dental insurance and childcare, military members and their spouses can receive other benefits. These benefits are meant to cover or assist with items from grocery costs to shopping options.
Military Shopping Benefits
Military shopping benefits are a way for service members and their families to save money on items such as food, clothing, appliances, cosmetics and other items. Almost all US bases throughout the world have a commissary, as well, which the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) runs. The commissaries on each base can help families save on groceries because they are required to sell things like groceries at cost.
Bases and installations also have a store known as a Base Exchange (BX) or Post Exchange (PX), and a host of gas stations, liquor outlets and fast food restaurants. Depending on the base, those services are either monitored by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), the Marine Corps Exchange Service (MEX) or the Navy Exchange (NEX). The exchange services operate without military oversight but still put the profits forward as funding for programs that benefit members of the military and their spouses.
In addition to the restaurants, gas stations and other amenities offered by the PX/BX and DeCA, there is also Military Welfare and Recreation (MWR). Most of the on-base recreation opportunities, such as gyms, bowling alleys and golf courses, are administered to by the MWR, which means that they are usually less expensive than similar civilian installations because the government subsidizes the costs.
As part of the MWR program, offers youth programs, such as dance classes, clubs and sports teams. The available services depend on a base-by-base basis, so stop by your MWR office to see the available programs at your base
For soldiers and their families who wish to spend leave on vacation, Military Welfare and Recreation also offers resort reservations in several major travel hotspots, such as Portugal, Japan, Italy, Australia, Germany and the UK. Service members and their families who wish to vacation stateside have several options as well, including:
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Fort Walton Beach, Florida
- Pacific Beach, Washington
Members of the military and their families can also book flights using remaining seats on military aircraft through a program known as "Space Available." Space Available flights allow military families and their dependents to travel between their duty station and a variety of US-owned military bases in foreign countries. To determine when and how you or your family are eligible for seating on a "Space Available" military flight, check the eligibility requirements as defined by Military.com. Many military families enjoy this option because it cuts down on the amount of planning you must do for vacation and saves money.
In addition to the main benefits listed above, members of the military can also receive other benefits such as legal aid, tax relief, service-recognized aid societies for financial assistance, family education aid and VA home loans. Many stores and restaurants also offer a percentage of meals or wares as a military discount. Veterans and retired military can also receive discounts on franchising if that's a job path that they choose to take
Possibly one of the largest benefits, however, is available to enlisted service members who have served out their term — they can make use of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill, which is a way for them to get a college education after they get out of the military
Look to Vista Military College as a Way to Develop After Service
As a military-friendly college that seeks to honor those who have served our country and provide them with the highest-quality educational experiences possible, Vista Military College offers degrees in business, healthcare, IT and the trades. For more information about Vista Military College and the programs that it offers, check out our website or give us a call at 877-316-0246. Even if you're not looking to further your education right away, Vista College strives to offer resources to veterans to give military members and their families the insight they need to succeed – check out the blog and other resources for more information.