The U.S. Veterans Administration connects veterans with a staggering array of services to help our former service members thrive in their civilian lives and retirement years. The VA links veterans with college programs, health benefits, career assistance, home buying services and more. So much is offered that it can be overwhelming to understand how it all fits together, who to contact about each service, and how to make sure you’re signed up for everything you’ve earned. Here’s a quick summary to help you get started.
A Well-Crafted Portal
The VA’s ebenefits website greets you with a portal page that lets you select whether you are a veteran, an active service member or a family member. Once you’ve registered in the correct category, an application form will collect your information, and then the site will present you with information about a full range of benefits available to you in the areas of financial, education, medical, home-buying, and career services.
Health Care for Veterans
Within the Veterans Administration, you’ll find the enormous Veterans Health Administration. More than 17,00 facilities makes this the largest healthcare system in the country. Veterans who are enrolled in VA healthcare meet the new standard of the new health care law coverage and don’t need to take any additional steps to comply with the law. VA healthcare offers a full package of wellness programs, health benefits, mental health care, and medical treatment through a network of Community Based Outpatient Clinics, Community Living Centers, Domiciliaries and Vet Centers. An online tool lets you find your local facility and puts you in touch with VA healthcare centers while you’re traveling.
Educational Benefits Through the G.I. Bill
Veterans often benefit from some re-training to fine-tune their skills for civilian life and qualify for the best jobs. The G.I. Bill covers tuition, housing, books and supplies, as well as one-time relocation expenses for veterans who decide to attend a school in another region. It’s possible to transfer your educational benefits to your spouse, if that’s better for your situation. The newly redesigned coverage of the “Post 9/11 G.I. Bill” includes provisions for online study, on-the-job-training, apprenticeship and non-college degrees. You can apply for benefits or learn more about what’s available online.
VA Home Loans
Home loans are also a Veterans Administration benefit, but they are handled very differently. The VA guarantees the home loans, which allow veterans to borrow with no down payment and no mortgage insurance premiums — but you don’t apply for the program through the VA like you do with other programs. You find a bank who participates in the program and apply for the loan like you would for any other loan. At some point you’ll need a Certificate of Eligibility from the VA, but your banker can help you with that as well. You can check your eligibility status on the VA website. Veterans, active-duty personnel, reservists and some surviving spouses can qualify.
Support in Crisis
When you need help immediately, turn to the Veteran’s Crisis Line website or call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to be connected to live help immediately. The VA’s crisis services include suicide prevention counselors and referrals to local resources for counseling or medical treatment. Crisis counselors can also put you in touch with financial resources in a financial crisis.
The Veterans Administration has done an excellent job collecting all these resources under one “roof,” with one-stop shopping for information and resources through the VA ebenefits website mentioned at the beginning of this article. But there’s also no substitute for personal assistance. Visit your local VA benefits office to meet with a real person for support and ensure that you’re taking advantage of all the support you’ve earned through your service to our country.
Lauren Haas was the founder and publisher of The St. Louis Area Family Gazette magazine, and editor-in-chief of Marketplace Magazine. Now, Lauren is a full-time freelance writer who travels the world, using St. Louis as her base. Contact her at Lauren@LaurenHaas.com