As a veteran, you have given your time, energy, and your health to serve our country. A grateful country has many ways in which to give back: veterans’ services are one of those. Overseen by the Department of Veterans Affairs – or the VA, as it’s commonly known – veterans’ services are an important part of preserving a high quality of life for veterans and their caregivers.
Veterans’ services are just one small way in which the country can give back to its honored veterans, and Congress is trying to improve its offerings. One current attempt at this is the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2017. If this act is passed, it will expand the financial, legal, and childcare services given to disabled or ill veterans and their caregivers.
This is just one example of the many services and programs that are available. From buying a home to getting health insurance and planning for a stable financial future, today’s veterans have many opportunities available to them, and planning for the future requires knowledge of them.
Sadly, statistics indicate that all too many veterans aren’t getting the services they deserve and are entitled to. For example, almost 2 million veterans and 3.8 million household members of veterans’ households do not have health insurance – just one of the services available to veterans. The purpose of this guide is to help promote awareness of the services available to you, your family, or the veterans you care for. These resources can hopefully serve as invaluable tools as you plan for your future health and financial care. This guide will cover:
- Housing Services
- Medical Care
- Investments and Miscellaneous Benefits
- Appealing a VA Decision
Housing Services for Veterans
Stable housing is a necessity for a veteran to transition to civilian life, but often vets coming home from the field find that on paper they don’t qualify for good terms on a mortgage. This is just one of the many reasons that 8.6 percent of the total homeless population is made up of veterans. The government has several programs designed to help veterans get access to safe and affordable housing so that the tragedy of homeless veterans will end. Here are some of them.
VA Home Loan Program
The most commonly thought of home buying benefit for veterans is the VA Home Loan Program:
- Through the VA Home Loan program, qualified veterans can buy a home with no money down and affordable interest rates. In fact, it is considered the most affordable way to purchase a home with no money down.
- The loan comes from a traditional lender and is backed by the VA, so the lender takes on less risk.
- VA home loans come with an entitlement, which is a promise that the VA will pay up to $106,025 of the home loan or up to a quarter of the loan amount. Each veteran can use the entitlement once, and it doesn’t reinstate until the loan is paid in full.
- VA home loans can be used to build a home or buy an existing home. Modular or manufactured homes may be eligible at the lender’s discretion.
- Buyers purchasing with a VA home loan must still pass the lender’s credit and income checks, but these are less stringent with the government backing.
- Homes purchased using this benefit must be the home in which the veteran will live. VA home loans can’t be used on investment or vacation properties, with the exception of multi-family units up to four units in size in which the veteran will occupy one unit.
- Veterans pay a percentage of the loan amount as a “funding fee” in lieu of a monthly mortgage insurance premium.
- If you are interested in learning more, Quicken Loans offers these types of loans and provides information on the VA Loan.
Housing Assistance for Homeless Vets
Homeless veterans are a tragedy that the government wants to prevent. To help vets find affordable and safe housing, the government offers a number of programs. These include:
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) – This program gives vets who are eligible for VA health care access to rental assistance vouchers for privately owned housing.
- Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program – This program offers grants to governments and nonprofits to be used to create and operate transitional housing for homeless veterans.
- Enhanced-Use Lease Program (EUL) – This program offers the VA the chance to use its land and buildings in supportive housing and related projects for at-risk veterans through leases with eligible private entities.
- Acquired Property Sales for Homeless Providers Program – This program allows the VA to sell its foreclosed properties to homeless provider organizations at a discount, provided the organization will use the housing for homeless veterans’ needs.
Loan Delinquency Help
When a veteran has a VA-backed loan, and the loan is at risk of becoming delinquent, the VA offers a few assistance options. Here’s what you need to know:
- Borrowers should first contact their lender to learn what options are available to help them repay the loan in a way that works with their current budget.
- If the lender can’t help, the borrower should call a Loan Technician at one of the Regional Loan Centers to find out what options are available to avoid foreclosure. Call 877-827-3702 to reach the Loan Guaranty office for help.
- If your VA loan is 61 days or more past due, a loan technician will automatically call and offer help.
- The VA Streamline Refinance may be an option if your loan is too high. This is officially known as the Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL), or a loan that will lower your interest rate to decrease your monthly payment. If your loan is a high-interest loan, talk to your lender about refinancing to an IRRRL, rather than going into foreclosure.
- USA Cares offers housing assistance grants for veterans who are facing foreclosure.
- If the VA and the lender can’t find a solution, the borrower may be able to get help through the HOPE NOW Alliance. This program offers financial counseling and relief measures that can help homeowners of all types, including veterans, find a way to avoid foreclosure. Call 888-995-HOPE for help.
- In rare cases, you may be able to apply for VA refunding. This is only available when the veteran can’t make payments due to circumstances beyond his or her control, but the problems have improved. In these instances, the VA will purchase or “refund” the loan, and the borrower repays the loan through the VA instead of through the lender.
VA Home Loan Foreclosure
If none of these programs work for you, or you simply can’t dig yourself out of the financial hole you’ve fallen into, then the home may go into foreclosure. Here’s what you need to know about foreclosure on VA loans.
- Your VA home loan entitlement stays with the home until the loan is paid in full, even if your loan is foreclosed.
- You may not have enough entitlement left to buy another home.
- However, if you do have entitlement left, you can typically use the loan program and buy another home again, two years after your foreclosure.
For further information about these programs, visit:
- Military.com: Facts About VA Loans
- NOLO: Help for Veterans Struggling with Mortgage Payments
- Veteran Loan Center: Foreclosure Options
- Veteran’s Inc.: Housing Programs
Medical Care for Veterans
Another service veterans have access to is medical care. Both veterans and their families can receive access to quality healthcare through veterans’ aid programs. Here are some of the programs you should know about:
Medical Care for Veterans and Their Families
- Veterans Aid & Attendance Pension – This program provides benefits to veterans and their spouses who require ongoing care for eating, bathing, dressing and undressing, and other natural needs. Disabled veterans can use this benefit to pay a caregiver or other long-term care scenario. The amount of the benefit varies based on whether the veteran alone or the veteran and spouse are needing care, or whether the pension is going to a surviving spouse.
- Veterans Health Care Program – This healthcare program is offered through the VA and provides hospital and outpatient care services that are defined as “needed.” Needed care or services are those that promote, preserve, and restore health.
- TRICARE – TRICARE is the program for uniformed service members and their families. It’s available to uniformed service members, Medal of Honor recipients, survivors, and former spouses.
- Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs – This program covers eligible beneficiaries of veterans that are not covered under TRICARE. This program includes spouses or children of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled, are killed, or who died after being rated permanently and totally disabled. This may also apply to family members of those killed in the line of duty.
- Medicare and Medicaid – Veterans may be eligible for programs like Medicare and Medicaid based on income and age, just like members of the general population. The only difference is that they may also receive VA benefits without hurting their Medicaid eligibility. Elderly or disabled veterans are encouraged to apply for these programs and the help they may provide.
Programs for Caregivers
Partnering as a caregiver for a disabled or ill veteran isn’t easy, so the Department of Veterans Affairs offers a number of programs to help caregivers get the support and mental health care that they need. Some of these include:
- VA Caregiver Support Program – Programs to help caregivers with self-care needs, including information and training to help.
- Fisher House Program – These homes provide a place for families and caregivers to live when they are taking a veteran to one of the major VA Medical Centers for treatment.
- Respite Care – This service from the VA pays for an individual to come to the veteran’s home so that the veteran’s main caregiver can leave the home for a few hours or a few days.
- Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 – This act created services for caregivers caring for seriously injured post 9/11 veterans, offering monthly stipends, travel expenses, access to healthcare services, mental health services, counseling, caregiver training, and a minimum of 30 days per year of respite care.
Watch Out for Fraud
Unfortunately, veterans, especially disabled veterans, are often the target of scammers. To protect yourself and your future, or the future of the vet you’re caring for, make sure you watch out for fraud. Here are some tips to help protect you from being scammed.
- Phishing – The VA won’t call you asking for updates to your information. If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be the VA asking for updated information, hang up. This is a phishing scam, looking to get your personal information to steal your identity.
- Benefits buyouts – Do not offer to sell your future pension or disability. Most of the time the payout offered is much less than the value of the benefit.
- Adult Protective Services – Use Adult Protective Services if you suspect your loved one has been a victim of fraud. This social services program provides seniors and adults with disabilities with help in cases of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
For more information, visit:
- Hauptman & Hauptman, PC: If I Apply For VA Benefits, Can I Still Get Medicaid?
- Forbes: Scam Alert – Top Five Veteran Swindles
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: VA Healthcare
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Apply for Benefits
- Benefits.gov: Basic Medical Benefits Packages
Investments and Miscellaneous Benefits
While homes and healthcare may be the most pressing benefits for veterans, when it comes to the future, investments and other benefits are just as important. Here are some additional benefits that you will want to know about:
- Death Gratuity – Family members of those who are killed in the line of duty receive a lump sum gratuitous payment called a “death gratuity.” The death gratuity is $12,420, with an additional $100,000 added when the individual was killed due to combat operation.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation – This is a monthly benefit that is paid to eligible survivors of certain deceased veterans. Eligible survivors are those whose military service member either died in active duty or died as a result of service-related injuries. Survivors of veterans who died and were receiving VA Compensation for a service-related injury may also qualify.
- Veteran’s Death Pension – This pension is paid to dependents of deceased wartime veterans. Eligibility is based on both the annual income of the dependent and the relationship of the dependent to the deceased veteran.
- Headstone or Marker – Veterans who were discharged under honorable conditions may be eligible for a government headstone or market for the grave site.
- Presidential Memorial Certificate – When a veteran dies, the next of kin will receive this certificate from the President of the United States honoring the deceased for his or her service.
- Burial Flags – Flags to use at a veteran’s funeral service are delivered free of charge from the VA. These are typically folded and given to the next of kin as a memorial.
- VA Cemetery Burial – Veterans with a qualifying discharge may be buried free of charge in a VA national cemetery.
Estate planning is critical for veterans because the benefits they receive must be addressed. Naming beneficiaries ensures those who are left behind are well cared for financially. Here are some places to get help with estate planning.
- Armed Forces Benefits Network – The AFBN offers help with estate planning for active duty service members and their dependents.
- Free Legal Clinics – The VA offers free legal clinics where veterans can get legal advice on many topics, including estate planning.
The VA offers hospice care for six months or less for veterans who are in the end stages of life. Hospice care may be available at home, in an outpatient clinic, or in an inpatient setting. Hospice care is part of the VHA Standard Medical Benefits Package, and vets don’t have to do anything special to get access to this service.
Life insurance is hard to come by when in a dangerous field like the military, but a couple of programs help veterans get life insurance to help protect their loved ones.
- Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) – This program provides low-cost term life insurance to eligible servicemembers. It’s automatically given to those who qualify.
- Veterans Group Life Insurance – This coverage allows veterans to continue to receive their life insurance after they leave the service.
- Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance – This program offers term life insurance coverage to the dependent children and spouses under SGLI, and allows coverage to continue for families even after the service member leaves the service.
- Service Disabled Veterans Insurance – This particular program is offered to veterans with service-connected disabilities.
- Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance – This program provides payment for families of severely disabled vets to use to pay the mortgage off when the veteran dies.
Veterans who still need to work have a number of options available for help. Some of these include:
- GI Bill – The GI Bill offers job training services that can help disabled and elderly veterans find gainful employment. One of these programs is the vocational rehabilitation and employment services listed under Chapter 31 of the bill. This gives veterans access to counseling, training, education and job placement assistance when needed.
- American Corporate Partners – ACP helps veterans find career opportunities as they transition back into civilian life. Many of the mentors and programs from ACP come from Fortune 500 companies.
- VetJobs – VetJobs is a veteran and military job board.
- FedsHireVets.gov – Honorably discharged veterans may be given priority hiring in federal job programs listed through FedsHireVets.gov.
Free Tax Prep Help
Veterans can get free help for their taxes. Here’s how:
- MyFreeTaxes – This program, funded by the United Way, operates in all 50 states. It helps veterans file their federal and state tax returns for free.
- Tax Counseling for the Elderly – While not veteran-specific, if an elderly veteran makes less than $53,000, these programs will provide free tax prep help.
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) – This program from the IRS provides free tax prep and e-filing for military families both on and off base. The Armed Forces Tax Council helps oversee this program.
Investment and Financial Help
Investment help is one area where veteran’s services are lacking. However, there are some programs to help vets make wise investment choices, as well as information to help vets avoid common investment scams. Here are some of them:
- VA Pension – The VA Pension is available for veterans with limited or no income who are age 65 or older and have a permanent and non-service-connected disability. This stipend will provide money for the veteran to live on and is also available for survivors.
- Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans – This program is designed to teach disabled veterans small business management and entrepreneurship skills to help them succeed in business endeavors.
- Unmet Needs Financial Grants – The VFW offers the Unmet Needs financial grants to help military families that have run into unexpected financial difficulties.
- Federal Thrift Savings Plan – While not military specific, the Thrift Savings Plan is a great way to invest for the future. This investment is a low-cost mutual fund that offers long-term, tax-deferred growth, spreading money over many different stocks and bonds.
- VA Home Loan Program – The VA Home Loan program must be used to purchase a home in which the veteran will live. However, that home can be up to four units in size. Renting out the other units can provide investment income.
For more information on these topics, visit:
- MOAA.org: Wills/Trusts
- Military.com: Estate Planning Basics
- ExploreVA.gov: Explore Benefits That Help Veterans Thrive
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents, and Survivors
- MilitaryBenefits.info: 10 Veterans Benefits You May Not Know About
- LifelineforVets: Pensions for Survivors of Deceased Wartime Veterans
Appealing a VA Decision
Sometimes eligible veterans will apply for a particular benefit, only to be denied. If you are denied a benefit for which you feel you or your loved one legally qualifies, here are the steps to take to appeal the decision:
- To appeal the decision, you first must file a Notice of Disagreement. This must be filed within one year of receipt of the letter you disagree with.
- The VA will send a Statement of the Case outlining why your claim was denied.
- If you still disagree, file a Substantive Appeal with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. This is required within 60 days of the letter that comes with the Statement of the Case.
- You have the option to have an in-person or video teleconference with the Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Take this meeting if you wish.
- The Substantive Appeal will transfer your appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, which will make a decision and mail it to you.
- If you still disagree, file a Notice of Appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. This must be filed within 120 days of the date of the decision by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
- Call 800-827-1000 to check the status of your claim or appeal.
- Consider consulting with a disability attorney for help.
For more information, visit:
- VA.gov: How Do I Appeal?
- VA.gov: The Appeals Process – Appeals and Claims Are as Different as Apples and Oranges
- DisabilitySecrets.com: The VA Denied My Disability Claim. How Do I Appeal the Decision?
- VeteransAidBenefit.org: Appealing a Bad VA Decision
For more information about Veterans benefits and how to get the services you deserve, visit:
- VA.gov: Geriatrics and Extended Care
- National Call Center for Disabled Veterans
- Corporation for National & Community Service: Veterans and Military Families Resources
- Serve.gov: Veterans and Military Families
- Veterans Outreach Center
- Senior Veterans Service Alliance
- SeniorLiving.org: Senior Housing for Vets
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Rental Assistance Helps More Than 340,000 Veterans Afford Homes, but Large Unmet Needs Remain
- MIT.edu: The Family Caregiver Handbook