If you’re a veteran, or you know one well, then you’ve more than likely heard about veterans’ benefits, which are provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (more commonly known as “the VA”). If you fall into the former category, there’s a good chance you’ve also been frustrated by veterans’ benefits.
Don’t get me wrong: from health care to education, there are many different types of benefits available to veterans in the United States, which is a great thing! These benefits can be valuable tools to help veterans supplement their incomes, save money or put themselves into a better position in life.
However, these benefits can also be very confusing. To start, they are available through both the federal government and state governments, which may vary depending on a veteran’s location. Moreover, federal benefits and the eligibility requirements to obtain them have changed over the years. This can make it difficult for veterans to know which benefits — or even which version of a particular benefit — they are eligible to receive.
So, if you’re a confused veteran — or a person who knows one — where do you turn for help?
1. County Veterans Service Officers
Many state VA offices employ individuals to serve as veterans service officers (VSOs) for particular counties; these individuals are known as county veterans service officers, or “CVSOs.” A CVSO works closely with his or her respective state’s VA, the federal VA and various other organizations. CVSOs are typically knowledgeable about the benefits available to veterans, the eligibility requirements of those benefits and the processes involved in obtaining benefits. Whether you’re a veteran, or a friend or relative of a veteran, your local CVSO is a great resource for learning about the wide array of benefits that are available and how to apply for them. He or she can also provide assistance with locating and filing the proper forms to receive benefits.
However, it’s important to note that a VSO may not be the most viable resource for every veteran; experiences can differ from state to state. For instance, some states don’t even employ VSOs. Additionally, some veterans may find that VSOs are unresponsive via email or telephone, work part-time only or may not be trained well — all of which can limit the amount of help you’ll receive.1
2. State VA Offices
This is where state VA offices can come into play. These officials will likely be knowledgeable about state and federal benefits, as well as the processes to obtain them. Unfortunately, there are only a few of these offices in each state, which can be inconvenient.
So, what are your options? In addition to VA offices, many states offer their own benefits to veterans, in addition to those available at the federal level. These can include things like college tuition assistance, discounts on hunting and fishing licenses, employment resources and sometimes even tax deductions or credits. Every state varies, so it’s important to visit your state’s VA website, call the local office or speak to one of your state’s VSOs, if applicable.
3. Federal VA Systems
The federal VA is likely the one department that most people recognize. This organization is the source of the most well-known veterans’ benefits, such as the VA Home Loan; the GI Bill, which provides veterans with money to attend college; VA disability compensation; and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), through which many veterans are eligible to receive health care. The federal VA also provides other lesser-known benefits to veterans like family counseling, crisis support hotlines and funeral services. To receive more information about these benefits, you can start by contacting a local VSO or your state’s VA office, or by visiting www.benefits.va.gov. This website provides comprehensive information and key details about all of the benefits available through the VA.
4. The Internet
The web can be a great resource for tapping into the hundreds of organizations across the U.S. that exist to help veterans, many of which are not directly associated with the state or federal VA. When it comes to your benefits, these organizations may specialize in everything from helping you navigate the application process to educating you about which benefits are available. In some cases, these organizations may even provide you with more specific, hands-on assistance, supporting you in ways that government-provided benefits do not. For instance, some groups offer transportation to medical appointments for veterans that have difficulty traveling;2 others assist homeless veterans3 or help veterans visit memorials that have been established in their honor.4
Why Is This Important?
Many benefits available through the VA are designed to provide a service or an essential need for a reduced cost (or in some cases, for no cost). In turn, eligible veterans have the opportunity to save or even receive varying amounts of money, which can be a major boon to their financial situation.
For example, if you’re eligible to receive health care from a VA facility, it’s likely that you will be able to spend less money on health insurance. If you’re eligible for a VA Home Loan, you can likely get a lower interest rate on your mortgage than with a traditional mortgage. You can use these extra savings to manage debt, build a “rainy day” fund or accumulate a nest egg for retirement.
If you’re eligible for the GI Bill, the federal VA will help pay the cost of your tuition and even fund books and housing, in some cases.5 This benefit allows you to earn a college degree with little to no student debt, which can have an incredibly significant impact on your future financial well-being.
While the world of veterans’ benefits can be complex and confusing, educating yourself about what’s available to you can have a positive impact on your life and your financial health. It’s a good idea to learn what benefits are available and which ones you’re eligible to receive. Your local VSO or the nearest state VA office can be great resources for helping you navigate the benefits research and application processes. Outside of these groups, you should also consider working with a qualified financial advisor who can help you understand and maximize the impact these benefits can have on your whole financial house.