Many people are familiar with the basic benefits available to veterans, but did you know there are programs that could be beneficial tools in building a financial plan? In this article, I will discuss several programs, resources and benefits that are available to qualifying veterans that could become a piece of their financial planning puzzle.
Obtaining a quality education is often one of the motivating factors in a person’s choice to join the military. Most people have heard that serving in the military will earn you benefits for college tuition; however, the VA also offers benefits beyond monetary assistance, including the Education and Career Counseling program.
This program is available for veterans beginning six months prior to discharge up to one year following discharge from active duty. It offers veterans services including assistance with a career choice based on skills and interests and coaching to ensure the veteran is taking advantage of all available resources. Having a quality education can be a key step on the path toward getting a job post-service, starting a career and working toward life and financial goals of homeownership, raising a family, traveling or saving toward a comfortable retirement. Learn more at va.gov/education.
For those still serving on active duty who also joined after Sept. 11, 2001, unused educational benefits may be transferrable to a spouse or dependent. The ability to transfer depends on several factors, primarily based on length of active-duty service and remaining service. More information can be found at va.gov/education/transfer-post-9-11-gi-bill-benefits.
GI Bill benefits can expire if service ended before Jan. 1, 2013. For those veterans, benefits expire 15 years after last separation from active duty. If service ended after Jan. 1, 2013, the benefits won’t expire due to the Forever GI Bill that went into law in August of 2017.
VA Home Loans
Buying a home is a huge part of life’s journey and should be planned for accordingly. The VA has a program to help make purchasing a home a reality for veterans who qualify. Many veterans are eligible to purchase or refinance their home through the VA Home Loans program.
Basic eligibility guidelines include:
- Veterans who served a minimum amount of active-duty time, based on when they served and whether it was during war or peacetime; the active-duty requirement varies anywhere from 90 days to 24 months (may be less if discharged for a service-connected disability)
- Reservists or National Guard members who were discharged honorably, placed on the retired list or transferred to the Ready Reserve
- The un-remarried spouse of a veteran who died in service or from a service-connected disability, is a prisoner of war, or is missing in action
- Note: Discharge type cannot be dishonorable
The VA gives a “home loan guaranty” to lenders. Because the VA does this, the lender provides the homebuyer with more favorable loan terms than a traditional mortgage lender would offer. Some of those include no down payment, no private mortgage insurance requirement (PMI), a limit on closing costs and no early pay-off penalty. Veterans can use the benefit more than once in their lifetime, and it is not necessary to be a first-time homebuyer to take advantage of a VA loan. The program can also be used to refinance a current mortgage loan. The program allows for a cash-out refinance, which might be a nice option to take cash from home equity for improvements, paying for school, paying other debts, etc. There is an eligibility process, which can take some time. Veterans who want to take advantage of the program should allow plenty of lead time to obtain the eligibility decision from the VA. Veterans can apply online for the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) here: va.gov/ housing-assistance/home-loans/how-to-apply.
Life insurance is a key topic to cover when building a financial plan. Several programs offered through the VA may provide affordable coverage for veterans and their family members. Often the rates are discounted from what another insurance company would charge for similar coverage. Coverage ranges from traditional life insurance to traumatic injury protection and service-disabled life insurance. These life insurance options are a valuable asset, especially for veterans who may have sustained injuries during service and may have difficulty getting approval for coverage outside of these programs. Upon separation from service, veterans can convert their in-service life insurance coverage to a civilian program with lifetime renewable term coverage. To learn more, visit va.gov/life-insurance/options-eligibility/vgli.
When a veteran obtains a life insurance policy through one of the previously mentioned programs, they qualify for free basic will preparation. Veterans have access to an online program where they answer a few easy questions and are provided with a legal will, valid in all states, that is ready to print and sign. Find out more at benefits.va.gov/insurance/bfcs.asp.
Long-term care is not something we like to think about, but we must consider it when planning for the future. It can be very expensive and, unfortunately, is often necessary to provide care for aging relatives. Through both the Aid and Attendance and Housebound programs, many veterans who are eligible for a VA pension and require the aid and attendance of another person may be eligible to receive additional monetary assistance. This assistance would cover the cost of care in a nursing home, an assisted living facility or other long-term care programs. This benefit could help reduce some of the burden of long-term care costs. For criteria that must be met in order to qualify for these programs, go to va.gov/pension/aid-attendance-housebound.
Do you or someone you know provide care to an aging veteran at home? The VA offers a caregiver support program. Although this program does not offer any monetary support to caregivers, it does provide a caregiver support line where they can reach a licensed professional who can answer questions and offer aid. The program also provides the caregiver access to a caregiver support coordinator to help them navigate the complexities of caring for a veteran and take advantage of all the benefits that are available. Read more about this program at caregiver.va.gov. The site offers helpful articles, exercise activities and videos to help caregivers.
Memorial and Burial Benefits
Did you know that many veterans are eligible to be buried in a national cemetery and have military honors at their ceremony at no cost? There are 135 national cemeteries, and if space allows, a veteran can choose to be buried in any one of them.
If a veteran qualifies, they receive a gravesite, opening and closing of the grave, ongoing care, a government-issued headstone, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Burial benefits are also available at no cost for spouses and dependents who wish to be buried in the national cemetery with the veteran; those family members are eligible even if they predecease the veteran. Obtaining eligibility, confirming available space at the preferred cemetery, and getting the burial flag and Presidential Memorial Certificate all take time, so it is good to take care of these arrangements ahead of time if possible. This program is called the Pre-Need Burial Eligibility Determination program. Learn more at va.gov/burials-memorials/pre-need-eligibility.
Veterans benefits are complex and vary widely depending on the veteran’s status and eligibility. From a financial planning standpoint, many programs could help veterans and their families plan for the future. It is a lot to sort through but worth it. You can also reach the Veterans Benefits Administration to get more information and ask any questions at 800-827-1000. Veterans have earned these benefits and are wise to take full advantage of what is available to them.
Thank you to all those who have served our country. I am proud to have served beside you and am forever humbled by your sacrifice.