Coming Home. Okay, Now What?

Dear Mr. Dad: Now that our troops are coming home from Iraq, my husband is thinking about getting out of the Air Force. We’ve heard a lot about all the benefits that are supposedly available to veterans and their families, but how do we find out about them?

A: When I got out of the Marine Corps I started looking into this, but the process was so cumbersome and overwhelming that I gave up. Big mistake. By not thoroughly investigating, I missed out on a lot of benefits. Fortunately, things are much, much better today.

I recently interviewed representatives from a number of agencies within the Veteran’s Administration, which should be your first stop—specifically their eBenefits program (ebenefits.va.gov). This is where vets (and soon-to-be vets) can register for health benefits and investigate many others. If you start registering now, the system will tell you what programs you may be eligible for and the documentation you’ll need to access them. Here are just a few examples:

Your husband may receive hiring preferences for certain government and civil service jobs. He may also have an advantage when bidding on government contracts. If he has a service-connected disability, check out vetsuccess.gov, which provides counseling, education, vocational training, and a number of other services. “Disability’ now includes Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), which don’t leave visible scars but can be just as damaging.

Today’s GI Bill (gibill.va.gov) is fantastic, paying full tuition for in-state schools and up to $17,500/year for private. If the vet can’t or doesn’t want to use them, these benefits can be transferred to another family member.

If you’re looking to buy a house or refinance your current loan, the VA guarantee allows for higher LTV (loan-to-value) ratios, meaning you may be able to get qualified with a smaller down payment. Funding fees can be a little steep, though, but there are other advantages.

National Cemetery Administration. We all know we need to talk about this at some point—we just don’t want to do it today. As uncomfortable as it might make you, visit cem.va.gov, read up on the benefits and eligibility, and then store the information away in the back of your mind. Hopefully you won’t need it for a long, long time. But knowing where to turn is better than not knowing.

Check into non-government organizations such as the VFW and American Legion. They can help vets negotiate the VA system and provide support in a variety of other ways. In addition, most states provide some kind of benefits for veterans. Check to see whether yours has a Department of Veterans Affairs or something similar.

There is a dizzying array of other organizations offering services to veterans and families—way more than I can go into here. The Military Family Network (emilitary.org) has a ton of resources and a comprehensive directory of providers that’s well worth exploring.

Your husband currently has life insurance through the military (Servicemembers Group Life Insurance—SGLI), which he can convert to a veteran’s policy (VGLI) but it has to be done soon after discharge.

One more idea: Look into the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. This wonderful program lets veterans tell their stories (orally, in writing, or in pictures), which then become a permanent part of the Library’s collection. If your husband has stories—and everyone does—have him visit loc.gov/vets.

Finally, I recorded in-depth interviews with a number of VSOs. You’ll be able to hear them on the military version of my radio show, “Positive Parenting.” Check militaryfather.com – Coming Up – for the schedule.