Veterans have access to hundreds of different assistance programs, ranging from education benefits and medical care to help achieving their goal of homeownership. However, the eligibility criteria for each program varies, and many veterans find themselves wondering what benefits they can legally receive.
General Application Procedures
There are three main ways to apply for veterans’ benefits:
- Complete an online application via eBenefits.
- Visit your VA regional office and request assistance from a VA employee.
- Utilize the services of an accredited attorney, claims agent, or Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representative.
To qualify for general veterans’ benefits, you must have been discharged from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions. However, if you received a discharge that is other than honorable and it has been less than 15 years since your discharge, you can request an upgrade by contacting your branch’s Discharge Review Board (DRB). If it has been more than 15 years since you separated from active duty, you’ll need to request a change to your military records.
In most cases, you will need a copy of your DD Form 214 to apply for benefits. This form, which may have a different name if you served in the Guard and Reserves, is the separation paperwork issued by your branch of service. If your form has been lost or damaged, you can request a replacement from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC).
Key Veterans’ Benefits
Burial and Memorial Services: Veterans can receive burial in a VA national cemetery. Under some circumstances, reimbursement of burial costs may also be provided.
GI Bill®¹ Education Benefits: The Montgomery GI Bill® is the best-known benefit for military veterans. This program helps cover education costs for undergraduate degrees, graduate study, technical training, or vocational education. If you served on active duty for at least 90 days following September 11, 2001, you are eligible for expanded education benefits through the Post-9/11 GI bill®. This includes the possibility of transferring benefits to a spouse or child if you choose to do so.
VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011: Created to address the goal of lowering unemployment among the country's veterans, this act may qualify you for up to one extra year of GI Bill® benefits if you are interested in working in a high-demand sector.
Education and Career Counseling: The VA has an education and career counseling program offering career choice assistance, benefits application assistance, and personalized support to help veterans deal with any academic or adjustment difficulties that they encounter as they transition to civilian life.
Veterans Employment Center: This website offers online resources for job seekers, including a veteran job bank, free LinkedIn subscription, and free Coursera certificates.
Health Care: Medical care for veterans is provided through VA medical centers, clinics, rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes. If you served during Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, please keep in mind that you need to enroll at a medical center within five years of military separation to maintain eligibility for this benefit.
My HealtheVet: This online records service lets you easily access information regarding your labs, prescriptions, immunizations, and other medical records from past VA appointments.
Home Loans: Home ownership is still a key part of the American dream for many military veterans. The VA makes it easier to purchase a home by guaranteeing loans made by private lenders to all active-duty military servicemen, as well as veterans. However, you need a certificate of eligibility to apply for this program.
Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan: You may be able to lower your interest rate by using this program to refinance an existing VA home loan. The program can also be used to convert an adjustable rate mortgage into a fixed-rate mortgage with no out-of-pocket cost, appraisal, or credit underwriting package.
Veteran's Group Life Insurance (VGLI): Affordable life insurance is offered through the VA for all veterans and their families. No proof of good health is required for the policy, and there is a legislated coverage maximum of $400,000. If desired, you can choose to convert your VGLI police to a commercial life insurance policy at any time.
Benefits for Disabled Veterans
Vocational Rehabilitation Services: Disabled veterans are eligible for vocational rehabilitation services designed to help them find suitable civil employment. Services might include counseling, education, job placement assistance, and/or financial aid.
Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) and Special Housing Adaptation (SAH) Grants: Veterans with service-connected disabilities can receive grants to help them modify their existing home, purchase an already adapted home, or construct a specially adapted home that creates a barrier-free living environment.
Disability Pension: If you are disabled as the result of your military service and unable to find suitable employment, you may be eligible for tax-free disability compensation. The amount of financial assistance you are eligible to receive depends upon the severity of your condition.
Education Benefits for Family Members: If you are classified as permanently and totally disabled, your spouse and children can receive up to 45 months of full-time education benefits.
Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI): This special insurance helps the families of severely disabled veterans pay off the mortgage for their home in the event of the veteran's death. A VMLI policy is worth up to $200,000. Veterans who qualify must apply for VMLI before their 70th birthday.
Benefits for Elderly Veterans
Aid and Attendance (A&A): This program offers an increased monthly pension for elderly veterans who are in a nursing home, bedridden, have severely limited vision, and/or need help performing daily functions such as bathing, eating, and dressing. Veterans who are not currently receiving a pension are not eligible for this program, and proof of eligibility must be submitted in the form of a report from an attending physician validating the need for extended care.
Housebound: This program offers increased monthly pensions to veterans with permanent disabilities that cause them to be confined to their homes. Veterans who are not currently receiving a pension are not eligible for this program, and proof of eligibility must be submitted in the form of a report from an attending physician validating the need for extended care. Additionally, veterans may not receive both A&A and housebound benefits at the same time.
Benefits for Female Veterans
Center for Women Veterans: Established by Congress in 1994, the Center for Women Veterans coordinates VA administration of health benefits and programs for female veterans.
Women Veteran Coordinators (WVC): In every regional office, there is a WVC who acts as a point of contact for female veterans seeking assistance with benefits for themselves and their dependents. WVCs are also able to help with the processing of claims relating to military sexual and personal trauma.
VA Health Care for Women Veterans: Each VA medical center has a Women Veterans Program Manager (WVPM) who coordinates health care services for female veterans, including primary care, reproductive care, and specialized care for chronic illnesses.
Military Sexual Trauma Care: Female veterans who experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment during their service may be eligible to receive military sexual trauma-related care, even if they aren't eligible for other VA services. Depending upon the severity of your condition, you may also be eligible for disability compensation.
Benefits for Homeless Veterans
National Call Center for Homeless Veterans: Veterans who are currently homeless or at risk of becoming homeless can call 1-877-4AID-VET to receive 24/7 free access to assistance from trained counselors who can connect them with resources designed to assist with their unique needs.
Homeless Veterans Outreach Coordinator: Each regional VA office has a Homeless Veterans Outreach Coordinator who works with veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Services provided include veterans benefit application assistance and referrals to other community organizations that may be able to address needs not being met by the VA.
Housing Assistance for Veterans: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA Supportive Housing Program have allocated over 58,000 housing choice vouchers for veteran use across the country. Veterans who receive these vouchers have a housing subsidy paid to the property owner directly and then pay the difference between the amount the property owner requires and the amount subsidized by the program.
Foreclosure Assistance for Veterans with VA-Guaranteed Home Loans: If you have a VA-guaranteed home loan and are struggling to make your mortgage payment, call (877) 827-3702 to be connected with a local specialist who can provide assistance exploring options to prevent foreclosure.
Benefits for Incarcerated Veterans
Eligibility Assistance: Incarceration affects eligibility for some veteran benefits, including disability and pension payments. The Homeless Veterans Outreach coordinator at each regional VA office serves as the point of contact for veterans who have questions about how incarceration affects their eligibility for services.
Health Care for Reentry Veterans (HCRV): The HCRV program works to help reintegrate incarcerated veterans back into the community, with the goal of preventing homelessness upon release.
Veteran Justice Outreach (VJO): The VJO initiative helps eligible veterans receive timely access to the mental health and substance abuse services offered by the VA in an effort to avoid extended incarceration.
Benefits for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi-Sexual (LGB) Veterans
Designating Same-Sex Beneficiaries: In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Constitution requires states to grant marriage licenses between two people of the same sex and recognize lawfully licensed same-sex marriages performed out of state. This ruling means that the VA now recognizes same-sex marriages without considering a veteran's state of residency. As a result, LGB veterans can designate same-sex beneficiaries for Veteran's Group Life Insurance (VGLI), the post Vietnam-era Veterans Assistance program (VEAP), the Montgomery GI Bill®, and presentation of a burial flag.
Benefits for Veterans Living Abroad
GI Bill® Education Benefits: Veterans who are living abroad are eligible for the same educational benefits as veterans living in the United States. However, they must use their benefits at foreign schools that have VA approval and offer programs leading to the equivalent of a standard college degree.
Foreign Medical Program (FMP): The FMP office reimburses medical care for the service-connected disabilities of veterans living or traveling in countries other than the Philippines. Treatment for other conditions is not covered.
VA Philippines Facility: The U.S. operates a regional VA office and outpatient clinic in the Philippines. Veterans living in the Philippines are entitled to seek the same level of services they would receive in the United States by utilizing this facility, with the exception of programs related to home loans.
Benefits for Minority Veterans
Minority Veterans Program Coordinator (MVPC): Veterans identifying as African American, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Native American/Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian can utilize the services of a MVPC for assistance in learning which benefits they qualify for, how to apply for those benefits, and what other resources in the community might meet their needs. Each VA regional office has its own MVPC.
Native American Direct Loan Program (NADL): If you identify as Native American, you may be able to use this program to finance the purchase or construction of a home on Federal Trust Land. The program can also be used to pay for eligible home improvements or reduce the interest rate on a VA loan.
Benefits for Prisoners of War
POW Veterans Outreach Coordinators: Former prisoners of war (POWs) are eligible for many of the same programs as any other veteran. However, each VA regional office has a POW Veterans Outreach Coordinator who works specifically with POWs to help guide them through the application process and provide referrals to other organizations and resources that may be of use.
Benefits for Survivors
Dependent and Indemnity Compensation: Survivors of veterans who died from service-related disabilities or in the line of duty can receive this tax-free benefit. The spouse and children of a veteran eligible for 100% disability compensation may also be eligible.
Death Pension: The immediate family of a wartime veteran may receive a pension if they can demonstrate financial need.
Civil Health and Medical Program: Survivors who aren't eligible to receive TRICARE may be able to receive reimbursement for certain healthcare costs.
Education Benefits: The son, daughter, or spouse of a veteran who died in the line of duty can receive up to 45 months of full-time education benefits.
Learn More About Veterans’ Benefits by State
In addition to all of the federal benefits mentioned above, you may be eligible to receive military benefits by state, such as free hunting and fishing licenses, specialized license plates, or property tax discounts. For example, Iowa offers a $5,000 grant to eligible veterans who wish to purchase a home within the state and reduces a home's assessed value for property tax purposes by $1,850.
To learn more about what general or disabled veteran benefits by state you may be eligible to receive, you should contact your state's Department of Veterans Affairs office.
¹GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.