10 Free Resources and VA Education Benefits for Military Students

Americans love a good military homecoming video. These clips show the happy return of servicemen and women, reuniting with their families among hugs and joyful tears.

One such video currently making the rounds features a 21-year Marine Corps veteran returning to a completely renovated home thanks to neighbors that thought he deserved a move-in ready house.

These homecoming videos are beautiful tearjerkers that end after a couple of minutes. If you are a vet, however, you know that coming home after active duty is not a two-minute snapshot; it’s a beginning to a lifetime of adjustment and transition.

Sometimes this transition involves major life changes, like joining the civilian workforce, buying a home, getting an education and raising children. There are free resources, essentially free money for veterans and retired military, to help make this transition as smooth as possible.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers education benefits, housing benefits and financial assistance for veterans, all of which are meant to assist veterans and their families. So if you are from a military family or are a member of the military, review this list of benefits and learn more.

Head of the Class

Going to college or getting vocational training is one of the prime benefits of being a veteran. According to the Department for Veterans Affairs, 25 percent of those currently taking advantage of VA education benefits are spouses and family members. Studies regularly show that Americans with college degrees earn higher wages than those who do not. So for financial stability as well as personal accomplishment, taking advantage of VA education benefits is a must for returning military and their families.

Occupational Counseling

After returning from years of service, it might be difficult to determine what professional path you want to take in the civilian workforce. Not sure what to study so that you can land your dream job? Not sure what you dream job even is?

The VA’s Education and Career Counseling Program provides career counseling to help you select an occupation that aligns with your talents and interests. Services include aptitude testing, adjustment counseling, resume review and job-seeking skills training. Once veterans have been through this program, they will be better positioned to pick the profession and path of study that is right for their skillset.

VA Education Benefits and Tuition Assistance

Once you’ve decided on a course of study, there are many benefits available to help you complete your education. All of these scholarships are basically free money for veterans and their dependents, so please take advantage of these resources or encourage the vet in your life to do so.

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 is commonly referred to as the GI Bill and is updated regularly, most recently in 2008. This bill contains most of the VA education benefits, financial benefits and other programs for veterans and their families, but other bills like the Montgomery GI Bill also contain benefits. Use this chart from the VA’s website to determine which benefits are the best for you. A few examples of particular VA education benefits are included here.

For those at the highest eligibility rate under the post-9/11 GI bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program will cover the resident tuition and fees for a public institution. If you attend a private institution, the Yellow Ribbon Program will cover whichever is lower: the national maximum per academic year or the lower of the actual tuition and fees. According to the VA, children transferees of those on active duty may be eligible.

The Montgomery GI Bill, also known as Chapter 30, gives VA educational benefits to veterans after a minimum of two years of active duty. Under this program there is also the opportunity to buy in to additional benefits. By paying $600, participants can receive up to an additional $5,400 in GI benefits. That is like $4,800 in free money for veterans! This money can be used for college, training, technical courses and more and is typically available for 10 years after your release. Participants must have received an honorable discharge.

The Montgomery GI Bill also provides education benefits for reservists of all branches of the military. Called the MGIB-SR program, the monies can be used for apprenticeships, licensing, on-the-job training, college degrees, vocational course and more.

The Dependent’s Education Assistance Act (DEA) is available to sons, daughters or spouses of veterans that meet certain criteria. Benefits last up to 45 months (and in some cases even longer) and can include special vocational and restorative training.

The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship is available for children of service members who died while on duty after Sept. 10, 2001. This VA benefit for dependents offers full tuition and fees for public school in-state students; for those attending private institutions, a cap is set by the VA. Students are also given monies for books, supplies and housing. This scholarship cannot be used at the same time as the DEA program, but they could be used in succession.

What if you already know you have the entrepreneurial spirit and are interested in starting your own business? VA education benefits can be used for programs through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Dependents are not eligible for this program.

Many benefits are transferrable between family members to ensure the entire benefit is used. For example, if the veteran in your family used eight months of the GI Bill allowance for a certification program, the remaining 28 months can be used by another qualified dependent. Read more about the transfer of VA education benefits here.

Private Scholarships and Discounts

Some institutions of higher learning, like Vista College, offer even more than the traditional VA education benefits in the form of transfer credits for military experience, career counseling services and scholarships to those who qualify. Tuition discounts are also available for active duty, veterans, and spouses and dependents. Talk with one of their academic counselors to start down the path to graduation today.

Programs by Branch

The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard and affiliated associations have their own tuition-assistance programs as well, both for veterans and their families.

For example, the U.S. Air Force sponsors the General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program. This popular scholarship opportunity has disbursed nearly 100,000 grants since it began in 1988. Sons and daughters of active duty, retired or deceased Air Force and Air Force Reserve members – and spouses of active duty or deceased members – are eligible for these $2,000 grants.

These types of advantages are available to those who served in that particular branch and their dependents. This scholarship finder tool will evaluate hundreds of scholarships to see if they are a fit given the criteria entered.

There are also thousands of nonmilitary scholarships available based on other interests, standards and personal traits. The U.S. Department of Labor has a free scholarship search database that will help determine if you are eligible for other awards. You can also do your own research and consider groups with which you may be affiliated. Nonmilitary scholarships are funded by nonprofits, individuals, employers, religious groups and social organizations.

Education is expensive, maybe even cost-prohibitive, without these benefits. Military families should pursue all of the scholarships available to them through the VA, their particular branch and private programs. Don’t leave this free money on the table.

Homegrown Benefits

Home ownership is part of the great American dream, and the VA’s programs rightly help veterans who have served their country make that dream a reality through financial assistance for veterans. One of the most important benefits available to veterans is the security of a home mortgage through the VA Mortgage Program.

VA Home Loans

VA Home Loans are made through private lenders, so you can still work with your local bank. As long as the home purchase price does not exceed the appraised value, most veterans can buy a home with no down payment and no private mortgage insurance (PMI). Other federal programs require at least a small percentage down and traditional mortgages typically require a 20 percent down payment, so this benefit is huge.

Unlike other federal mortgage programs, you do not have to be a first-time homebuyer to take advantage of this benefit, and it can be used more than once (so you are free to move).

Rate Reduction and HELOCs

If you’re a veteran and already own a home, you could contact your lender about refinancing to a lower rate through the Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL) or take advantage of the Cash Out Refinance Loan, which is similar to a home equity line of credit.

Property Tax Relief

Nearly half of all states also offer relief from property tax for qualified veterans and retired military. Check with your state’s Veteran’s Affairs office to see if this is an option for you, and remember that you may need to file the paperwork annually.

Other Health and Family Benefits

Health Care

The Veterans Health Benefits package includes access to hospitals and other medical facilities specifically for veterans. Once enrolled in the comprehensive Veterans Medical Care Benefits Package, preventative care services like regular physicals, immunizations and nutrition education will be covered. Prescriptions for medically necessary medications are provided via a cost-effective prescription benefit program. Prescription drugs can be refilled online, over the phone or through the mail.

Mental-health services are also made available to veterans in an effort to assist in the recovery of those who have experienced trauma.

The VA Dental Insurance Program (VADIP) allows for the procurement of dental insurance through MetLife and Delta Dental at a reduced cost. There are multiple plans to choose from, and all participation is voluntary. Since good dental health has been shown to decrease the likelihood of heart disease and pregnancy complications, please be sure to sign up for this benefit in addition to the medical coverage.

Life Insurance

After service, those who had been in enrolled in the Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI) are eligible to convert their coverage to Veteran’s Group Life Insurance (VGLI). If you are still in the military, make sure you have SGLI coverage (many are automatically enrolled, so be sure to double check). The spouses and children of veterans are also eligible for life insurance through Family Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance (FSGLI).

VGLI provides lifetime coverage and no medical test or proof of health are necessary (unlike policies you would purchase on the open market). While initially the coverage is equal to the amount of the original SGLI coverage, veterans have the opportunity to purchase additional coverage for up to a maximum of $400,000.

This legislated financial assistance for veterans will give you and your family peace of mind for years to come.

Hospice Care

For later in life, the VA offers a Geriatrics and Extended Care Program that will provide for an elderly veteran’s needs. Veterans’ homes, adult day health care, medical foster homes and respite care are all part of this assistance for older vets.

The Adult Day Health Care program, for example, provides companionship, support and socialization activities for the elderly. This is a skilled-care service that helps with basic activities that can become burdensome for the elderly, like preparing meals, taking medicines at the correct times and in the correct doses, and getting dressed.

While these services cover a variety of health levels and ages, they all work to make veterans comfortable and well cared for as they age. In addition, they offer support to the families of veterans in the form of respite care for family caregivers and grief counseling to family members.

Funeral Benefits

A final benefit for veterans is a resting place after death. There are 131 national cemeteries in America with available space. Veterans can be buried there and the site will be cared for in perpetuity. Additionally, the VA provides a headstone or marker, a memorial certificate from the President of the United States and a burial flag. Eligible spouses and children can also be buried at the site.

While these types of benefits are not pleasant to consider, they will offer loved ones security and peace of mind during a very difficult period of grief, and therefore should be considered.

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Still aren’t convinced about using these resources?

Here is a testimony from Tahitia, who took advantage of the VA educational benefits. “I served as a Data Systems Technician for four years and was deployed to Afghanistan. My dream has always been to become an archeologist and travel the world. I tried school before, but working three jobs made it impossible to focus on my studies. Now, thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, I am attending the University of Maryland majoring in Anthropology/Archaeology. My tuition is paid in full; I receive a housing allowance and also get money for books. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is making my dream a reality.”

Veterans like Tahitia know that, no matter how popular military homecoming videos are on YouTube or the local news, there is so much more to transitioning back into civilian life after years of service. The benefits for veterans help to make that transition easier and more affordable.

Make your own dream a reality by participating in one of the many benefits available to those who have served our country and their families.

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