2023 National Defense Budget: More Money For Troops

The National Defense Authorization Act is the legal basis for funding the Department of Defense. It specifies a budget for the entire DoD, authorizes pay raises and acquisition programs, and much more.

Everyone in uniform is affected by the NDAA, as well as their immediate families. Each year, the NDAA must be passed by the House and Senate, and signed into law by the President.

The 2023 National Defense Budget, also known as the 2023 NDAA, cleared the House of Representatives in July 2022 and at press time awaits approval by the Senate and a signature from the President. What follows is based on the version of the NDAA which was approved by the House.

The Senate version may remove or modify some or all of the following options discussed below.

2023 National Defense Authorization Act: More Money For Troops And Families

A key part of the NDAA for any fiscal year? Military pay raises. The 2023 pay raise in the current NDAA calls for a 4.6% increase in military pay.

Compare that proposed increase to last year’s approved pay raise of 2.7%. For an E-5 with six years time-in-service, the 2023 pay raise could be worth an extra $150 every month.

  • Some sources point out that while this pay increase looks impressive, it may not be enough to catch up with which is at nearly 8% for 2022. That’s where DoD officials hope an inflation bonus added to the 2023 NDAA might help.
  • There is a proposed short-term pay bonus in the 2023 NDAA that would be applied to those earning less than $45 thousand per year in base pay.
  • It works out to be a minimum of 2.4% of that base pay, but the catch is that this increase is (under the current version of the NDAA) only for the year 2023.

Higher Bonuses Proposed

The military’s secret weapon when it comes to recruiting and retention? The enlistment bonus and the reenlistment bonus.

High-demand career fields such as intel, nuclear operations, and military medicine all potentially offer these bonuses. The 2023 NDAA features higher amounts:

  • Enlistment bonuses which previously featured maximums of $50k, for example, would be increased to $75k in the new year.
  • Re-enlistment bonuses may also go up to $50k (from the previous $30k).
  • Those who qualify for proficiency pay bonuses or other incentive pay may find their maximums go up from $1000 to $1750.

Extensions To Temporary Authorization To Increase BAH

A temporary authorization to increase rates for Basic Allowance for Housing in 2022 (associated with inflation and rising housing cost) has been inserted into the 2023 NDAA as an extension of the original.

This could, if approved, mean more BAH money for troops living in areas where housing costs rise above a certain percentage.

Extensions To Guard/Reserve Incentive Pay

Some Guard and Reserve incentive pay options originally set to expire at the end of 2022 are being extended into 2023.

This affects skilled duty such as medicine or nuclear operations, but also affects incentive pay offered to “reserve component members experiencing extended and frequent mobilization for active duty service”.

Cold Weather Operations Pay or Arctic Pay

Troops assigned to cold weather bases, or who must train in frequent cold weather may be eligible to draw so-called Arctic Pay or cold weather operations pay. The 2023 NDAA authorizes a special pay that could be worth $300 extra per month. However, under the current version of the NDAA, this option is only permitted for the year 2023.

WhistleBlower Incentives

Some NDAA initiatives don’t survive revisions in the Senate. Each year many options are named with some making the cut and some being left “on the cutting room floor”. A proposed whistleblower incentive is one of those “iffy” measures that may or may not survive the next version of the act.

  • The 2023 NDAA features a provision to pay up to $10 thousand or one percent of the savings realized as the result of servicemembers lodging whistleblower-type complaints about fraud, waste, and abuse in DoD operations.
  • A similar program is already in effect, known as the DoD Suggestion Program, which is not specifically targeted at whistleblowing but does offer cash incentives for suggestions that are actually put into use and realize savings.

Pet Relocation

Another provision that may or may not make the cut is the allowance for pet relocation associated with a permanent change of station move. The DoD may reimburse you for up to $2,000 in charges associated with relocating a pet as part of a PCS move.

What To Know About The 2023 NDAA

The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act is some 3853 pages long and contains literally hundreds of provisions. At press time this has been placed on the Senate calendar but the NDAA has not made its way through the Senate approval process nor has it been sent to the President’s desk for signature. The previous version was approved by the Senate in late December 2021.

 

TRICARE Cost Increases In 2023

TRICARE has released its fee structure for 2023, which includes increases for certain services and options beginning on 1 January in the new year.

Fee increases affect some TRICARE enrollees differently than others. You will need to know the increases for your specific demographic and/or selected TRICARE plan as they may be different from other plans you enrolled in previously.

What kind of differences?

  • Active duty service members and their families enrolled in TRICARE Prime or the U.S. Family Health Plan are not required to pay an annual enrollment fee, annual deductible, or pay out-of-pocket costs for covered services. TRICARE Prime does feature a catastrophic cap (see below), which is the amount you must pay out of pocket before TRICARE begins paying.
  • Compare the no-fee structure for Prime to the options offered to those enrolled in TRICARE Select; these families also have no annual fees, but there are co-payment increases coming in 2023. Some enrollees may find an increase in their annual deductible on 1 January.

There are two types of TRICARE groups–TRICARE Group A and TRICARE Group B. Which group you belong to determines your fee structure. Both groups may have fee increases scheduled for 2023.

Why Fee Increases Matter

TRICARE Open Season runs from November 14 to December 13. This is the one time you can make changes to your health insurance coverage without needing a Qualifying Life Event like birth, marriage, or death in the family to do so.

TRICARE Cost Increases: Enrollment

There are no enrollment fees for active-duty families. Those who are military retirees who are considered “working age” will experience fee increases based on whether they are in TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Select:

  • TRICARE Prime Group A: Enrollment fees increase in 2023 to $351.96 per individual, and $703.92 per family. Compare those increases to the 2022 numbers; $323 per individual and $647 per family.
  • TRICARE Prime Group B: In 2023 the individual enrollment fee is $426 up from $392 in 2022 and the enrollment fee for families is $852 for 2023 up from $884 in 2022.
  • TRICARE Select Group A: $171.96 per individual in 2023, up from $158; and $345 per family, up from $317.
  • TRICARE Select Group B: $547.92 for individuals in 2023 (up from the previous year’s $504 per individual), and $1,095.96 for families (up from $1,008 per family).

Annual Deductibles

Some TRICARE cost concerns don’t affect active-duty military members and their families. One example–there are no deductibles for Prime Group A or Prime Group B.

TRICARE Select for active duty family members in Group A, grades E-4 and below, features no change in 2023 from the previous year. These beneficiaries pay $50 per individual and $100 per family. Active duty Group A, grades E-5 and above, pay $150 per individual and $300 per family, the same as in 2022.

Group B members pay $60 per individual, up from $56 in 2022, and $121 per family, up from the 2022 fee of $112. Group B members E-5 and above pay $182 per individual, up from $168, and $365 per family, up from $336.

Working-age retirees in Group A pay $150 per individual and $300 per family (no change).

Out-of-Pocket Costs

Out-of-pocket copays with TRICARE Select may be higher in 2023 depending on the type of care needed. There are no costs for covered preventive care visits.

Primary care outpatient visit costs within the TRICARE Select network will increase for active duty families by one dollar only for those in Group A with a $2 cost increase for Group B. Working-age retirees may see a $2 cost increase.

TRICARE Prime urgent care center visits for working-age retirees will see a copay increase by $3.

TRICARE Catastrophic Cap

What’s a catastrophic cap? This is the largest dollar amount TRICARE beneficiaries must pay out of pocket (over a single year) before TRICARE begins to pay.

The catastrophic cap for active-duty family members and working-age retirees may, depending on the nature of their coverage, go up by approximately 8.7%.

Active duty family members in Group B of both TRICARE Prime and TRICARE Select will see a $97 increase in the cap. Increases in the cap for working-age retirees, their families, and others in Tricare Select go up by $322 in 2023.

TRICARE Premium-based plans

2023 sees higher costs for TRICARE premium-based plans:

  • TRICARE Young Adult Prime sees an increase of 11% in the new year, going up to $570 each month in 2023.
  • TRICARE Young Adult Select will see a 10% increase in 2023, going up to $291 a month.
  • Tricare Reserve Select sees a 2023 increase of 4% to $48 a month for individuals and up to $240 for families.
  • Tricare Retired Reserve gets a 9% increase for a total of $549 a month for individuals and up to $1,321 for families.

Some TRICARE Costs Are Not Going Up

There are a few exceptions to the 2023 cost increases. Outpatient care is one of them. The co-pay for outpatient care is actually going down in some cases. The co-pay goes down by one dollar in 2023 for Group A TRICARE Select members. Group B does not fare so well–the co-pay costs for Group B increase in 2023 by $2.

Get more information on your TRICARE costs and options in 2023 at the TRICARE official site.

TRICARE Open Season Checklist 2022

Fall season is also TRICARE Open Season; this is the time when military families can make changes to their TRICARE coverage without needing the justification of a major life event like a birth or death in the family.

Who Can Qualify for TRICARE?

  • Military members
  • Military spouses
  • Dependent children
  • Dependent parents or Parent-in-Law
  • Qualifying ex-spouses
  • Surviving spouse
  • Surviving children/dependents

Who can Change Coverage During TRICARE Open Season?

TRICARE Open Season is for family members, not active duty service members. That’s because Active Duty coverage for TRICARE is dictated by the duty location; TRICARE Prime, TRICARE Prime Remote, TRICARE Prime Overseas, etc.

Active duty troops must use TRICARE Prime or one of its alternates. Family members have more options, and during Open Season you can change those options to better suit you. You don’t have to change plans, but the opportunity is there once each year.

When is TRICARE Open Season?

TRICARE Open Season starts on November 14, 2022, and ends December 13, 2022. The open season dates may change from year to year.

TRICARE Checklist: Consider Your Basic Options

During Open Season you have the choice to do nothing and remain in your current healthcare plan. But you also have the option to enroll in a new plan or change plans. You can also switch between family coverage and individual coverage.

TRICARE Checklist: Update DEERS With The Most Current Information

If you have dependents or anticipate having dependents who have not been added to the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System or DEERS, those dependents must be added before TRICARE coverage can start on those beneficiaries.

Keep all your information current in DEERS for best results; it is a terrible idea to try to update DEERS and TRICARE at the same time. Update DEERS first.

TRICARE Checklist: Changing Your TRICARE PLAN

The first thing to do if you’re considering a new TRICARE plan? Review the details of your current plan and compare it to others you might be considering. A side-by-side comparison is crucial to make sure you get as much out of your health insurance as possible. The basic options include:

  • TRICARE Prime: Managed care, and offering the most affordable coverage according to the TRICARE official site.
  • TRICARE Select: Self-managed care. TRICARE says this option offers “the most freedom” thanks in part to not having a required primary care manager.

You can compare TRICARE plans to learn more about how these options work. Once you have compared the features and options, it’s time to review the costs, which you can do using a TRICARE cost comparison tool offered on the official site.

It’s crucial to know all your options. Did you know there’s a wide range of TRICARE coverage you can select from once you decide whether you want managed care or self-managed care. Your options may include

  • TRICARE Prime
  • TRICARE Prime Remote
  • TRICARE Prime Overseas
  • TRICARE Prime Remote Overseas
  • TRICARE Select
  • TRICARE Select Overseas
  • TRICARE For Life
  • TRICARE Reserve Select
  • TRICARE Retired Reserve
  • TRICARE Young Adult
  • US Family Health Plan

TRICARE Checklist: Planning Future Care and Coverage

If you need to review your Open Season TRICARE coverage options, there are some big questions to ask. They include:

  • Is your family size changing this year?
  • Are you getting married or divorced this year?
  • Are you moving this year?
  • Are you PCSing this year?
  • Are you turning 60 or 65 this year?
  • Are you retiring or separating from military service this year?

If the answer to any of these questions is YES, that may affect your choices and options for coverage.

Remember, active duty troops who leave active duty will have to elect for different TRICARE coverage options depending on whether they are going into the Guard or Reserve, retiring as a military pension-qualified veteran, or if you are simply separating from the service and going into civilian life.

You don’t need to wait for TRICARE Open Season to make coverage changes on some of the life milestones listed above; if you experience any of those circumstances you may be eligible to make Open Season-type changes within a 90-day window.

These are known as Qualifying Life Events and you can either make the changes during open season or wait until these events actually occur to modify your healthcare options.

 

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VA Disability Benefits for COVID-19

As of September 2022, nearly half a million military members had gotten sick with COVID-19. And when that many people get sick with the same thing–especially in the military–many of them could have lingering effects that others don’t experience. Where coronavirus goes, there’s a problem called “long COVID”, which may aggravate other medical issues or create new ones.

Getting COVID-19 isn’t enough at press time to qualify for VA disability benefits. But if you suffer from long COVID you could become eligible. Why?

What Qualifies you for COVID-Related VA Benefits?

You must first have contracted COVID-19, and you must have served within a specific window of time on active duty (see below). You must be experiencing additional symptoms that are associated with long COVID.

How was this VA assistance approved? Federal law was changed in 2020 through the Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act to include help for military members who were infected by COVID-19.

Who is eligible to apply? Typically those who served for at least two days between March 2020 and January 2020.

Those diagnosed with COVID-19 during this time may find the VA presumes their COVID illness is service-connected which in turn means that long-term COVID-related medical issues are also presumed to be service-related.

There may be no additional proof needed in such cases other than having a record of the illness in your military or civilian medical records.

What VA Benefits Are Offered For “Long COVID”

You could qualify for free VA healthcare for your medical issues and you could also qualify for a VA disability payment. If you are suffering from long COVID, contact your primary care manager or call the VA at 800-698-2411.

How Long COVID Works

Long COVID is what we call a group of symptoms that could affect you if you were infected by COVID-19.

You may recover from the worst of the infection but the long COVID symptoms could arise up to three months later. The Department Of Veterans Affairs says anyone who has caught COVID is at risk of long COVID symptoms:

  • Altered sense of taste
  • Altered sense of smell
  • Fatigue
  • Nagging cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart racing, chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Balance problems
  • Vision and memory problems
  • Headaches
  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation

If you suspect that you are suffering from long COVID, contact your primary care manager and call the Department of Veterans Affairs right away to discuss your immediate needs and how to file a claim for service-connected medical problems associated with COVID-19.

What To Know About COVID-19

In September 2022 the CDC reported more than 450,000 service members had gotten sick with COVID-19. Some 20% of those who suffer from COVID develop symptoms of long COVID later. Thousands of veterans could experience such symptoms based on that percentage.

If you contract COVID-19, follow the advice of your primary care provider or other caregiver. Do not attempt to self-medicate with untested and unproven “cures” such as Ivermectin.

Do not attempt to inhale bleach or peroxide fumes as some have foolishly suggested–this is extremely dangerous. Likewise, treatments suggested by some such as gargling with salt water or other treatments are not effective. COVID-19 settles in the respiratory tract and gargling will not help.

Other COVID-19 Facts

  • Cold weather does not kill the COVID-19 virus.
  • Hot and humid conditions do not affect the virus where transmission is concerned.
  • Drinking hot water or taking hot baths does NOT CURE COVID-19.
  • Exposing yourself to high temperatures will NOT kill COVID-19.
  • Steam inhalation is not a cure for COVID-19
  • Cannabis use is said by some to prevent COVID-19. This is unproven.
  • Drinking alcohol of any kind does not cure COVID-19.
  • Colloidal silver, a quack medicine type “snake oil” supplement denounced by the FDA, was touted as a cure for coronavirus. Do not take colloidal silver for any reason.

What the CDC Says About Long COVID

  • Post-COVID conditions can last weeks, months, or longer according to CDC.gov.
  • Post-COVID conditions may occur “more often” after severe COVID-19 illness.
  • Anyone who has been infected may experience post-COVID conditions, even those who did not show symptoms.
  • The unvaccinated may be at an elevated for post-COVID conditions.
  • Some long COVID symptoms may appear in people who did not realize they were infected in the first place.

Military Benefits Guide: National Guard & Reserve

National Guard & Reserve Comprehensive Military Benefits Guide

Some benefits require a minimum time in uniform to access, others may take effect immediately. The benefits for members of the Guard and Reserve differ from active duty benefits for a number of reasons, including the fact that these jobs are essentially part-time during much of the year unless there is a deployment, field training, unit activation, etc.

  • Pay and Allowances
  • Education benefits
  • VA Home loans
  • TRICARE
  • Job Certification
  • Retirement

National Guard and Reserve Component Pay and Allowances

There are special pay and allowance options that may be offered to you depending on your rank, your career field, and other variables. When you join the National Guard or the Reserve, you make a part-time commitment to military service. That means your time commitment isn’t the same as an active duty soldier, sailor, airman, Guardian, Marine, or Coast Guard member.

That also means your pay is part-time, too. Naturally when a member of the Guard or Reserve is deployed, activated, or otherwise called to active service, the pay changes to active duty, too. But while you serve under “normal conditions” during peacetime, your service is limited to weekend drills, active duty for training, and other activities as required.

If you need to know your state’s National Guard pay rates, you can check the official site of your state’s National Guard, or you can check by branch of service. For example, the Air National Guard official site features a pay calculator to help you estimate your National Guard earnings in advance. You will need to scroll down for the Pay Calculator.

Read more: Military Pay Charts

Guard/Reserve Education Benefits

The Montgomery GI Bill is an option that was offered at one time to all new recruits. Today that program has been replaced by the Post 9/11 GI Bill but some may still qualify to use the MGIB-SR:

You may qualify for the MGIB-SR if you’re a member of one of the following Reserve Components:

  • Army Reserve
  • Navy Reserve
  • Air Force Reserve
  • Marine Corps Reserve
  • Coast Guard Reserve
  • Army National Guard
  • Air National Guard

 

>> Search for GI Bill-approved schools for National Guard and Reserve members with CollegeRecon!

 

The following must all be true for you to qualify:

  • You have a 6-year service obligation in the Selected Service OR;
  • You are an officer in the Selected Reserve serving 6 years (that is in addition to your initial service obligation) AND;
  • You meet what the VA calls “ other requirements” which may include finishing initial active duty for training (IADT), and you are in good standing in a Selected Reserve Unit.
  • Your obligation must have started after June 30, 1985, or for some types of training after September 30, 1990.

If you qualify for the GI Bill under any of these circumstances, you’ll want to learn more about your options to use these benefits–you can make an appointment with a college admissions counselor or contact the VA directly to learn more about what is possible.

In addition to the GI Bill, you may also qualify for Military Tuition Assistance from the Guard/Reserve, though not all branches of service offer the benefit to reserve component members. Where offered, you may find that 100% of your tuition expenses are covered for classwork totaling $250 or less per semester hour or the equivalent.

Read More: GI Bill Facts and Fiction

 

>> Search scholarships for National Guard and Reserve members with the CollegeRecon Scholarship Finder!

 

VA Home Loan Benefits for the National Guard and Reserve

VA home loans are offered to those who serve enough qualifying time in the Guard or Reserve (see below). There are major advantages to using a VA home loan as a Guard member or Reservist. One of these advantages is the no-money-down mortgage option. Another is the fact that you cannot be penalized for early payoff of the mortgage (including refinancing) and you cannot be required to purchase a home that is appraised lower than the asking price even if you have paid earnest money.

Who qualifies for a VA mortgage among members of the Reserve Components? Those who:

  • Served for 90 days or more on active duty during a wartime period, OR
  • Were discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability, OR
  • Have six years of service in the Selected Reserve or National Guard, AND were honorably discharged, placed on the Standby list or transferred to Standby Reserve or Ready Reserve, or who continue in the Selected Reserve.

Read More:  Best Practices for the VA Loan Process

 

>> Get your questions answered with a free VA Loan consultation!

 

TRICARE for National Guard & Reserve

Members of the Guard and Reserve may be eligible for TRICARE. You are required to create or maintain an account on the Defense Manpower Data Center or MilConnect to verify eligibility for TRICARE Guard/Reserve plans such as Line of Duty Care, Active and Inactive care, and options for those who are retiring.

Read More: TRICARE for Guard and Reserve Members

Furthermore, members of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) may have the option to purchase dental coverage but typically do not qualify for other TRICARE benefits unless on active duty orders OR recently deactivated.

Read More: TRICARE: A Comprehensive Guide

Job Certification for the National Guard & Reserve

Depending on the branch of military service, the nature of your career field, and whether you serve in the National Guard or the Reserve, you may be offered job certification that is related to your military job. For example, the Army National Guard offers certification in areas that include:

  • Certified Defense Financial Manager (CDFM)
  • Six Sigma Black Belt (SSBB)
  • CompTIA Security+
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP)
  • EMT/Paramedic
  • Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)

The nature of military service in the National Guard means that the state where you serve plays an important part in the nature of your benefits in this area. Not all states offer the same funding or certification options.

The situation is different for Reservists as these troops operate on the federal level rather than the state level. That means benefits for Reservists are more standardized. They also depend on the branch of service you are in; Air Force Reserve job training is more focused on mission-essential needs but you may find that the AF Reserve offers help with student loans and other civilian-based opportunities.

National Guard and Reserve Retirement Benefits

Those who serve enough “creditable years” of military service in the Guard or Reserve may become eligible to apply for a military pension and become military retirees.

Unlike those who serve on Active Duty for 20 years and get to start enjoying retirement pay immediately once they have “dropped papers”, members of the Guard and Reserve must wait until they reach a certain age to start receiving military retirement pay.

Read More: Retirement Pay For Guard And Reserve Members

Military retirement for National Guard and Reserve members has changed thanks to laws passed in the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. The Act in part reduced the age those in the Ready Reserve can start receiving retirement pay.

Normally the retirement age is 60, but now, your retirement age is lowered by three months for every 90 days of active duty after 28 January 2008. Further changes in 2015 allow that 90-day period of active duty to stretch over two successive fiscal years.

Drawing retirement pay is NOT automatic. You must apply for it and be approved for it.

 

 

Military Benefits Guide: Spouses & Dependents

Spouses’ & Dependents’ Comprehensive Military Benefits Guide

Some military benefits for spouses and dependents are available regardless of the involvement or status of the service member. Others may require the participation of the service member (transferring GI Bill benefits, for example) or require troops to apply through the chain of command or other processes on behalf of the spouse or dependent.

In other cases, such as with medical care, you may only have to provide your current military spouse or dependent ID to get, use, or continue to use the benefit.

Education Benefits for Military Spouses and Dependents

There are a variety of education benefits for military spouses. Some benefits are not provided by the military, but by private enterprises, Veteran Service Organizations, or other non-government entities. This section features military education benefits for spouses provided by the federal government.

They include Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits which must be transferred from the servicemember’s name to the dependent or spouse. This can only be done while the servicemember is still under a military service commitment and a new service commitment must be made for the GI Bill benefits to be transferred.

Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) is a DoD-funded resource military spouses can use if they want to plan a return to academia. SECO features a variety of resources including a scholarship finder and there is a MyCAA Scholarship worth up to $4,000 for qualifying spouses looking to return to school. You’ll find SECO at the MilitaryOneSource official site.

Read More: MySECO: 4 Reasons Military Spouses Need to Take Advantage

The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship is offered to qualifying spouses and children who are survivors of one of the following circumstances:

  • Active-duty service members who died in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001;
  • Selected Reserve members who died from a service-connected disability on or after September 11, 2001

Discuss the Fry Scholarship with a representative of your selected school or institution. Not all schools are approved for this program and you’ll need to determine if the opportunity is available before you discuss applying for the Fry Scholarship with your admissions counselor

 

>> Search scholarships for military spouses and dependents with the CollegeRecon Scholarship Finder!

 

The VA Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) is a federal program offering education and training to qualified dependents of vets who are either permanently disabled due to military service or who died on active duty as a result of military service.

  • Are permanently and totally disabled because of a service-related condition, or
  • Died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition

Discuss VA DEA with a representative of your selected school as not all schools are approved for this program. It’s best to determine if DEA is an option option to you before you discuss applying for DEA with your admissions counselor

Read More: VA Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance

VA Home Loans for Military Spouses

The VA Loan program offers no-money-down, low-interest home loans to qualifying servicemembers. It also allows service members and spouses to apply for a VA mortgage together, treating the loan application differently than if a veteran and a non-veteran who is not a spouse were to apply together.

There is no VA home loan option for the spouse alone. There are exceptions in cases where the service member has died. In such cases, the qualifying criteria include at least one of the following:

The Veteran –

  • Is a prisoner of war (POW)
  • Is missing in action (MIA)
  • Died while in service or from a service-connected disability and you didn’t remarry, or
  • Died while serving, or from a service-connected disability. In such cases you must not have remarried before you were 57 years old or before December 16, 2003, or
  • Had been totally disabled and passed away

If you are claiming VA home loan benefits as a surviving spouse, you will need to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs directly if you assist with the application, VA Form 26-1817 Request for Determination of Loan Guaranty Eligibility—Unmarried Surviving Spouses.

Read More: Questions and Answers About VA Home Loans

 

>> Get your questions answered with a free VA Loan consultation!

 

TRICARE Benefits for Military Spouses and Dependents

Active duty service members are required to enroll in a TRICARE plan that is based on the location of their duty station. TRICARE Prime and TRICARE Remote are the stateside plans, and TRICARE Prime Overseas and TRICARE Prime Remote Overseas are the basic plans the servicemember can choose to enroll their spouse and/or dependents in.

Read More: TRICARE: A Comprehensive Guide

Family members also have the option to select other TRICARE options based on the location they are in. Those options include, but may not be limited to:

  • TRICARE Select is described as a “self-managed preferred provider organization (PPO)” plan offered to those in the United States
  • US Family Health Plan is offered in select locations only. This is described on the TRICARE official site as “an additional TRICARE Prime option available through networks of community-based, not-for-profit health care systems”.
  • TRICARE For Life is described as “Medicare-wraparound coverage for TRICARE-eligible beneficiaries who have Medicare Part A and B.”
  • TRICARE Select Overseas offers “comprehensive coverage” for those in overseas locations.

There are more flexible options offered to spouses and dependents, likely because it’s understood that some may already have healthcare options through an employer or school; the additional healthcare options for spouses and dependents are designed to accommodate this depending on the plan and the nature of your coverage.

Read More: TRICARE For Spouses And Dependents

Career Assistance for Military Spouses

There are multiple types of career assistance for military spouses, starting with spouse hiring preference. The Department of Defense has a federal hiring preference program aimed at military spouses, but if you have not explored your options for this preference recently you may not be aware of certain changes to the program that benefit all applicants.

Before 2019, the DoD used the Priority Placement Program to register military spouses so they could claim their federal hiring preference. But that program entered the sunset phase in 2019 and no longer operates. Does that mean there is no longer a preference program? No.

The replacement option, known as Military Spouse Preference or MSP, is described by the Defense Department as a “special federal hiring authority that allows spouses to be noncompetitively considered” for federal positions. MSP does NOT require an in-person appointment to get started, unlike the previous PPP option.

Now, military spouses simply identify themselves as candidates for MSP when they apply for federal work using USAJobs.gov. This is an advantage for spouses who know they will be going overseas soon but don’t know what assignment yet.

MSP also eliminates a past requirement limiting applicants to a single “occupational series”. You can now choose any job that offers MSP, rather than being limited to a specific area of expertise.

This is not the only career assistance type benefit offered to military spouses. Other options include the USO Pathfinder Transition Program which offers professional development options for military spouses that can be used “throughout the duration of military service as well as in preparation for life post-military” according to the USO official site.

The U.S. Department of Labor offers TEAMS or Transition Employment Assistance for Military Spouses and Caregivers. This typically consists of employment workshops to help military spouses meet their career goals.

TEAMS workshops are instructor-led virtual training, provided as stand-alone training. modules. You can take all of the workshops or just a few and they can be taken in any order that fits your availability and schedule.

There are also options for military spouses who accompany active duty service members to overseas duty locations, including spouse hiring preference. To apply for preference at an overseas base, contact the Human Resources office at the base and explain that you need information on the spouse hiring preference policy for that installation.

Read More: Overseas Military Spouse Career Options

 

>> Find companies that help place military spouses with CareerRecon!

 

Child Care

The Department of Defense offers affordable childcare access to military and DoD-affiliated families. These programs are offered at military bases around the world, and while not every single base has child care options (forward deployed, remote assignments, and hardship assignments for example) the majority of troops and their families may be able to take advantage of these DoD child care options.

Options include:

  • Child Development Centers
  • Family Childcare
  • “24/7 Centers”
  • School Age Care facilities
  • The “Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood” program

Who Is Eligible for Military Child Care?

Military affiliation is one of the requirements for military child care. Children enrolled in a DoD program must be the dependents of “eligible sponsors” including parents who are active duty military, DoD civilians, Guard/Reserve members who are on orders, Gold Star spouses, and many others.

Childcare costs are assigned based on household income, which makes this a benefit that can make a big financial difference for junior enlisted troops. Signing up for military child care means contacting the base Child Development Center where you are stationed or where you will be reassigned to.

You can use a DoD search tool at MilitaryChildCare.com to locate military child care options anywhere offered in the world, and you’ll want to do this as soon as you get PCS orders as demand for military child care is high and waiting lists typically apply.

The sooner you get your name on the waiting list the sooner you can get access to affordable military child care.

School Age Care facilities are offered on many military installations; these programs are for those in kindergarten through sixth grade. Care is available before and after school, and even for non-school days and summer vacations. Many of these programs are run from base youth centers or Child Development Centers, and all are certified and accredited.

Many military bases feature other after-school options and other programs for school-age children who are too old for Child Development Center care. These programs vary depending on the base but in general, you may find options including:

  • Installation youth center programs
  • 4-H Military Partnerships
  • Defense Department summer camps
  • Military Kids Connect (a website designed to celebrate military youth and help them cope with military life)

Read More: Military Childcare Basics

 

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VA Benefits for Disabilities Appearing Within a Year After Discharge

When you prepare to retire or separate from military service, you are given a checklist of things to accomplish ahead of your final out-processing appointments. One of those is starting the claims process with the Department of Veterans Affairs for any service-connected medical issues for which you might be entitled to VA compensation.

But some experience medical issues after retiring or separating from the military; they may develop symptoms after returning to civilian life and many wonder if they have any options to apply for VA compensation for those issues, too.

And in some cases, the answer to that question may be “yes”. If you have signs of an illness within a year of leaving uniformed service you may be able to apply for compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Who Qualifies for VA Disability Benefits?

Veterans may qualify for added consideration for VA disability benefits, ‘if you have an illness that’s at least 10% disabling’ appearing within one year of retirement or separation. You must not have a Dishonorable discharge, and the medical issue must be on the VA list of “Diseases Subject to Presumptive Service Connection”.

What Is Presumptive Service Connection?

A presumptive service connection is what the VA uses to determine your eligibility for VA disability pay in certain cases. “Presumptive” basically means that the VA assumes certain medical issues are directly related to military service. Qualifying medical issues may include but are definitely not limited to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Peptic ulcers

If you have such issues within a year of leaving the military, the VA will assume they are service-related even if you did not have symptoms while serving.

The VA maintains a long list of such conditions, one too long to reproduce here. If you wonder if you may qualify, don’t assume you won’t have your claim approved–let the Department of Veterans Affairs make the determination instead.

Benefits Available

If your claim is approved by the VA, you may qualify for VA health care as well as VA disability compensation.

How to File a Claim

You must file a formal claim for VA disability compensation and you’ll need to submit supporting documentation, medical records, and any other evidence you can provide to support your application. Your supporting evidence must include how disabling the condition is (it must be at least 10%) and it must have appeared one year after discharge or sooner.

When filing your claim, you will need to submit your proof of military discharge (DD Form 214 or its equivalent) plus you will need to give permission to the VA to review your medical records.

The VA official site reminds us that for those who do have a qualifying medical condition on the VA Presumptive Conditions list (as found in Title 38, Code of Federal Regulation, 3.309(a)) you will not need to prove that the problem started during and/or was aggravated because of military service.

According to the VA, “This is because we believe that certain diseases that appear within one year of your discharge are related to your service.”

Exceptions to the One-Year Rule

Some medical issues are covered regardless of whether they appear within a year of discharge or not, but some exceptions do still have time limits:

  • Hansen’s disease, which is an infection that affects your skin, nerves, and mucous membranes, may appear within 3 years after discharge.
  • Tuberculosis may appear within 3 years after discharge.
  • Multiple sclerosis, which is a long-lasting illness that can cause numbness, weakness, and other issues, may appear within 7 years after discharge.
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease which is a condition affecting muscle control, may appear any time after discharge.

What to Know About Applying for VA Compensation

For ANY claim, you should be prepared to submit a package to the Department of Veterans Affairs that includes your military medical records, any civilian medical records that might apply, plus letters from out-of-network or civilian medical providers that can help support your claim. You can also submit “buddy letters” from people you know who can attest to how your medical issues have affected your ability to work, enjoy life, pursue hobbies, travel, etc.

It is a good idea to take plenty of time preparing your application; don’t omit crucial data or paperwork no matter how time-consuming submitting them might be. You will need to provide as much supporting documentation as possible to make a strong case to the VA.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has the final say in these decisions, but don’t forget that you have the ability to appeal a VA decision; expect to act quickly to do so as you may have a limited window of time to file an appeal.

 

 

 

How to Add Dependents to Your Veteran Benefits

Changes in marital status, family size, and other factors are common, but when veterans need to add or remove someone from their VA benefits, there is a specific procedure that must be followed. Adding a new child, a new spouse or a parent who has come to depend on you financially to your military benefits is a process that requires an application and approval.

That’s why if you are a retired or separated military member with a spouse or dependents, you should know about VA Form 21-686c, the application used to add or remove dependents from your benefits.

You can use VA Form 21-686c to add those you financially support including unmarried dependent children under 18, adult children between 18 and 23 who are in school, and you can use it for a dependent parent as well as a spouse.

Why VA Form 21-686c Is Necessary

When you join the military you have the opportunity to add your dependents and spouse to the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System or DEERS. Being listed in DEERS means your dependents and spouse are eligible for military benefits such as TRICARE, etc.

When you leave military service and file a claim with the VA for service-connected medical issues, you also have the ability to add your dependents to the claim–the Department of Veterans Affairs offers added consideration for veterans with dependents and a VA disability rating of 30% or higher.

But many people experience changes in family size along the way, and if you have a VA rating of 30% or more and you get married, divorced, had a child, or other factors you will need to complete and submit VA Form 21-686c to add or remove a dependent.

When To Use VA Form 21-686c

There are times when using this form is not appropriate. For example, you should not complete this form to add a dependent child who is older than 23, married, or not relying on you for financial support. You should not fill out this form for someone the VA does not consider a qualifying dependent or spouse. Who does the VA consider a qualified dependent?

  • Spouses
  • Unmarried children (biological or otherwise) under the age of 18 or who are 18 to 23 years old and attending school full-time.
  • A disabled adult child who experienced the disability before age 18.
  • Dependent parents who live with you and rely on you for support. Need-based guidelines may apply.

It is important to note that in typical cases, the VA does not make a distinction between a biological child, adopted child, foster child, etc. The same is true for biological parents, stepparents, foster parents, etc. The key is that the dependent relies on you financially for support.

What VA Form 21-686c Does

By filling out the form you are providing information to the Department of Veterans Affairs about the dependent you wish to add or remove from your VA benefits. In some cases, this is a grim task, as when reporting the death of a dependent or spouse. In others, it’s to claim benefits for a new addition to the family through birth, adoption, or other means. Sometimes it’s to add a parent or parents that have come to depend on you financially and live with you in your home.

This form is required in certain cases–the death of a dependent or spouse, after a dependent child reaches age 24 or gets married, basically any time the VA needs to stop paying a benefit because the recipient has died or no longer qualifies.

Failure to report such changes may result in being overpaid by the VA and the Department of Veterans Affairs will seek to recoup such payments once discovered. That’s something veterans should avoid by reporting the changes as soon as possible.

Completing Form 21-686c

You will need a variety of information depending on the circumstances of your application. It is best to review the application form, gather the information and documents you need, and submit it after filling out the form as completely as possible. Omitting information required on the form typically results in a slower process for that application.

You should always submit copies of your important documents, never originals. You may need copies of birth or death certificates, proof of military service, divorce decrees and other official documents.

In cases where you must add or remove a dependent child, the usual details are required including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Name
  • Social Security Number
  • Date and place of birth
  • Name and address of those the child lives with if not residing with you.

You may be required to fill this form out when a dependent child gets married since a married dependent no longer qualifies for certain VA benefits. Basically, you should consider Form 21-686c whenever you have a change in family status that could affect a VA benefit.

In cases where you wish to add a parent, you will also need information about the parent’s net worth, any assets or property, and any income where applicable. You will also need to list all in your household who depend on you financially.

Complete the form and mail it to the address listed at the bottom of page two, or complete it online and submit it electronically through the VA official site.

 

 

 

Military Benefits Guide: Active Duty

Joining the United States Military as a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guard member or Space Force Guardian means accepting a commission or taking an oath of enlistment. The oath describes the new servicemember’s obligations to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.

But after the oath, these new troops learn about the benefits they have earned by taking the oath. What ARE the benefits of joining a branch of the uniformed services?

How do they differ depending on your status as an active duty service member, National Guard, or Reserve component? Do military spouses and dependent children get benefits too? In some cases, the answer is definitely yes. In other cases, the benefits may have qualifying requirements.

Below, we’ll explore military benefits for all eligible applicants below, starting with active duty, Guard and Reserve, and finishing with information for spouses, dependents, and others who may qualify.

Military Benefits For Active Duty Personnel

Military benefits start with pay and allowances but also include healthcare, education, medical care, travel, free tax support, and home loans. Some benefits begin immediately, others require minimum time in service.

Some benefits cannot be accessed until the service member has completed Basic Training and any advanced training required before getting a first duty station assignment.

Military Benefits During Basic Training

When you enlist or accept a commission, some benefits are open to you right away. Military pay begins when you begin your initial training, and so do medical benefits in the form of on-base care from a military facility. All new recruits are automatically covered by TRICARE health insurance when they ship out to basic training.

What you do not get right away includes the GI Bill, the VA home loan, spouse tuition assistance, access to on-base child care, military leave, Space-A travel, and special pay/allowances like hazardous duty pay and proficiency pay.

Read More: Military Benefits Offered During Basic Training

Military Allowances

Depending on your duty station, the nature of the duty, your branch of service, and other variables you may be offered a range of military allowances to offset certain costs associated with relocating to and working at a new assignment, deployment, TDY, etc. These allowances may include:

  • Basic Allowance For Subsistence
  • Housing allowance (overseas and stateside)
  • Other “situational” allowances (Cost of Living, Family Separation)
  • Clothing allowances

Most of these allowances must either be approved by your chain of command or you must apply to begin the approval process. The branch of military service, the type of allowance you need, and your rank will all play a factor in determining how much you are entitled to and when.

There are also many other special pay and allowance options that may be offered to you depending on your rank, your career field, and other variables. Many of these must be qualified for through specific service, testing (language proficiency testing is one of those), and experience.

Others may be offered by virtue of being assigned to a certain location (hazardous duty pay is one of those) or because a career field is understaffed and needs retention incentives.

Read More: Military Allowances Guide

“Situational” Military Allowances

Some military allowances are offered if the military decides you need them in specific circumstances. For example, a Cost of Living Allowance (also known as COLA) supplements basic pay in areas overseas where the cost of living is higher. Overseas assignments like Japan, for example, have traditionally featured COLA to make being stationed there more affordable.

Another situational allowance is FSA, also known as the Family Separation Allowance. This is paid to those who must perform duty away from their family.

This allowance is paid for those who are involuntarily assigned away from home and is not offered for those who volunteer to serve elsewhere. Situational allowances (our term, not the DoD’s) are paid when the service member meets the required conditions and is no longer paid when those conditions are no longer met.

Military Housing & Housing Allowances

Some will qualify for a Basic Allowance for Housing stateside or an Overseas Housing Allowance. What does it take to be approved for these housing allowances? In some cases, it’s a simple matter of being assigned to a new base and not being given government quarters. In others, it may be a case of deciding which option works best for you. But what about those offered government quarters as single or married service members?

Some military members may qualify for on-base military housing. Some are offered this as single/unaccompanied service members, others are offered military family housing designed for legally married couples and any dependent children.

You may be offered on-post housing run by the DoD (getting rarer all the time) or you may be offered housing on base or off run by a public/private venture agreement between the federal government and a private housing provider.

If you draw BAH and live off base, you may or may not have the option to choose on-post housing later. Much depends on the assignment you’re at and the available on-base units at the time.

Single and unaccompanied service members who are not offered BAH are usually housed in “the barracks”, which in today’s sense are more like college dorm rooms (depending on the location, housing conditions, and quality in these facilities can vary greatly) than what you might envision a barracks environment to be like. Your options may include:

  • Government-owned on-base housing
  • Privatized on-base housing
  • Single or unaccompanied quarters

Read More: Military Housing Allowances (BAH and OHA)

VA Home Loans

The VA Home Loan benefit is offered to those who serve a minimum amount of time in uniform after completing initial training. VA loans typically require a minimum of 90 days of continuous active duty service but if you joined in an earlier “service era” than the current Gulf War era, your time in service minimums may vary.

Read More: VA Loan Basics

VA mortgages offer zero-down payment options, have no VA-required mortgage insurance, and there are no penalties for paying off the mortgage early. You may have the option of using a VA mortgage to build a home from the ground up, purchase a condo unit or mobile home, and you can use VA mortgages to purchase mixed-use properties that are primarily residential. VA mortgages limit certain costs the lender can pass on to you, the zero-down option is a huge advantage for many buyers, and you cannot be penalized for early payoff of the home loan.

Read More: The VA Home Loan Guide

To apply for a VA loan, you must first get a VA Certificate Of Eligibility and apply through a participating lender. Eligibility for the VA loan program is not the same as VA loan approval, and you are required to credit-qualify for a VA loan the same as any other mortgage program.

Read More: The VA Loan Certificate Of Eligibility

Qualifying for the VA loan benefit does not mean instant loan approval. You must credit-qualify for a VA mortgage the same as any other major line of credit. That said, VA loans are easier to get than some conventional mortgages because they have more forgiving credit standards.

Read More: VA Loans: Why Credit Scores Matter

VA Loans allow you to buy, refinance, renovate or build a home from the ground up. You can buy property in the United States or in its territories, but VA loans cannot be used to buy property overseas.

Read More: Questions And Answers About VA Home Loans

Basic Allowance For Subsistence (BAS)

What is the military’s Basic Allowance for Subsistence, informally known as a Subsistence Allowance or BAS? This is a tax-exempt military allowance designed to offset the cost of a service member’s meals. BAS, also known amongst some service members as “separate rations” or more derisively as “separate rats”, is a callback to the days of old when the United States Military and other military forces offered both room and board for its troops.

BAS is offered when the federal government declares that an assignment or duty location warrants the allowance due to a variety of factors which can include the availability of kitchen facilities for service members to use, the cost of food or food-related expenses for the service member, and whether or not the command feels it’s practical or necessary to provide BAS.

BAS Is For Service Members Only

BAS is offered to the servicemember only. Family members (spouses included) do not qualify for BAS as this is an allowance designed to offset any associated food costs with a new duty station, deployment, duty-related travel, etc.

BAS is based on the most current food cost estimates made by the federal government via the USDA Food Cost Index, and the rate of payment is based on your status as an officer or enlisted member.

BAS is one of the rare cases where military pay and allowances are actually higher for enlisted members. Officer pay is considerably higher than enlisted pay; officers are thought to be better able to afford their day-to-day living expenses as a result. That is why enlisted members get more food dollars. Like most military allowances, BAS is subject to annual adjustments based on the anticipated increases in food costs from year to year. But the BAS increase you get is not tied to the same factors used to determine military pay raises each year; these are separate processes.

Read more: Military Allowances Guide

GI Bill

The GI Bill is one of the most important and most-used military benefits. This option is open to currently serving, retired or separated, Guard and Reserve members, and even some dependents. GI Bill options for active duty service members include the ability to transfer the GI Bill to a spouse or school-age dependent child.

You are required to serve a minimum time in uniform before you can apply for GI Bill benefits. For those on active duty today, the minimum is typically 90 days, but that may vary depending on when you joined the military.

Read More: Am I Eligible For VA Education Benefits?

The GI Bill pays tuition, fees, and other expenses at participating schools. You may find the entire cost of your basic education is covered in some cases, and in others, you may need supplemental assistance from options like the Yellow Ribbon Program, state veteran education resources, etc.

Read More: The Yellow Ribbon Program and how it can enhance your GI Bill.

Not all GI Bill options are the same. If you signed up for the Montgomery GI Bill, for example, you do not have the option to transfer your benefits to a spouse or school-age dependent. If you signed up for the Post 9/11 GI Bill you may have the option to do so but there may be an added service commitment required in exchange. Some may be offered the opportunity to switch from the Montgomery GI Bill to the Post 9/11 version. Once you make the switch, it is irreversible.

Read More: GI Bill Facts And Fiction

There were many changes to the GI Bill thanks to a piece of legislation known as the Forever GI Bill, which is a law and not a separate, new GI Bill option all by itself. The Forever GI Bill changes the way benefits may be transferred and used, how Post 9/11 GI Bill housing stipends are paid, and more.

Read More: How The Forever GI Bill Changed Your Military Education Benefits

There are GI Bill options for members of the Guard and Reserve, and the requirements for these troops differ from those on active duty. It’s good to know your options long before you want to use them as a member of a Reserve component.

Read More: Veteran Education Benefits Guide

Military Education Benefits

Branch-specific tuition assistance programs and on-base education options include:

  • Air Force Tuition Assistance
  • Army Tuition Assistance
  • Navy Tuition Assistance
  • Marines Tuition Assistance
  • Coast Guard Tuition Assistance
  • National Guard Tuition Assistance
  • Reserve Tuition Assistance

These programs are offered to those who meet minimum time-in-service requirements and other criteria. For example, the Air Force paid 100 percent of tuition, up to $250 per semester hour, and $166 per quarter hour for accredited off-duty courses.

The rules for each Tuition Assistance program will vary depending on the branch of service. Some military tuition programs specify that only one degree per degree level (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) may be funded.

All military tuition assistance programs have minimum grade point average requirements and those who fail to maintain satisfactory progress may be required to pay back some or all tuition assistance depending on circumstances. This type of assistance may not be offered to troops with disciplinary issues, failed fitness tests, or other problems.

Read More: How To Use Military Tuition Assistance

Education Benefits For Disabled Veterans

There are also military education benefits offered specifically to help disabled veterans, and some benefits are offered to both those still serving as well as those who have retired or separated.

These are typically offered at the state and local levels. You may find that these programs are administered in some cases by veteran service organizations and in others by a state government agency such as a state-level Division of Veterans Affairs or Department of Veterans Affairs (not the federal agency).

The features, qualifications, and application requirements of these programs are NOT standardized and will vary depending on the state, the agency, and other factors. In some programs, it may be the veteran and/or dependents who benefit, in others, it may be the veteran only, or the spouse alone. In others benefits may be offered only to dependent children of qualifying service members.

Read More: Education Benefits For Disabled Veterans

Healthcare

The basic rule of thumb for military healthcare: those currently serving on active duty enroll in TRICARE for health coverage for themselves and immediate family members. In general, active duty service members and their families do not receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, though some service members are encouraged to begin working with the VA as soon as they have obtained retirement or separation orders.

Active duty members and their families may be treated at an on-base medical facility or an off-base facility that is within the service member’s TRICARE network. Overseas your options may be more dependent on the on-post treatment options provided, but this is not necessarily true in all cases. Much depends on where you are stationed, for how long, and the nature of your assignment.

  • TRICARE
  • On-base medical care is an option for servicemembers and their families.

There are a variety of TRICARE options including:

  • TRICARE Prime
  • TRICARE Select
  • TRICARE Prime Overseas
  • TRICARE Select Overseas

TRICARE may be an option for some qualifying military retirees. Those who are retired or separated have the option of applying for VA healthcare options which may depend on the applicant’s medical condition, any VA-rated service-connected medical issues, and more. When you are an active duty military member transitioning out of military service you may have the option to get temporary TRICARE coverage when separating, dependent care included.

Read More: TRICARE: A Comprehensive Guide

Life Insurance (SGLI)

If you are currently serving, you are eligible to apply for Servicemembers Group Life Insurance or SGLI. This benefit does require you to make a minimum monthly payment that is set based on the amount of life insurance coverage you opt into up to $400,000.

At press time, the highest monthly payment is listed as $25 per month for the maximum coverage for $400k. SGLI payments are automatically deducted from your base pay amount each month. You must meet eligibility requirements to sign up for SGLI. This benefit is for service members only and does not provide life insurance coverage for any member of your family. This is a “contingency” type benefit that provides a life insurance payout to your surviving beneficiaries if you die while covered.

Read More: Who Is Eligible For SGLI?

If you are retiring or separating from military service, you have the option to continue this life insurance coverage under a different program called Veterans Group Life Insurance or VGLI.

You become eligible to apply for VGLI within a year and 120 days from your date of discharge. You may apply for an amount up to the same coverage you had through SGLI.

Travel Benefits

  • Space-A Travel (active duty Space A)

Space-A travel is an option for active duty military members, family members, and retirees. Short for “Space-Available”, Space-A is an option that lets you apply for empty seats on military aircraft flying missions approved for extra passengers.

Space-A flights originate from military bases and you sign up for seats on these flights at the base military passenger terminal or online at the official site for that terminal or command. You may be permitted to sign up via e-mail or online.

Some Space-A flights are dedicated back-and-forth trips between military bases in a specified area, others may be added to the Space-A roster last minute based on changes to a mission or its requirements.

Signing up for Space-A travel means you must have authorized leave paperwork if you are a military member, and there is seating priority on all Space-A flights requiring mission-essential travel to be prioritized first, followed by passenger categories from Category I (those on Emergency Leave orders) all the way down to Category Six, which includes:

  • Retirees
  • Dependents
  • Reserve members
  • ROTC, NUPOC, CEC
  • Veterans with a total Permanent Service-connected Disability
  • Surviving Spouses of Service Members who died on duty

Space-Available travel is a great perk of military service but seats are never guaranteed to non-mission-essential personnel. You must be prepared to fully cover the cost of a commercial flight back to your duty station if you cannot get a seat on a Space-A flight.

Space-A flights typically originate and end at an on-base airport or runway. You won’t fly into a commercial airport, and you’ll be responsible for your own travel once you are shuttled off of the runway or allowed into the passenger terminal.

Read More: Space-A Travel: Everything You Need To Know

Paid Vacation/Military Leave

You’ll earn 30 days a year plus some holidays, starting in your first year. Servicemembers accrue leave at a rate of 2.5 days per month and you can carry a maximum of 60 days of leave into the new year. Any amount above 60 days is considered “use or lose” time. In some circumstances, additional leave accrual beyond 60 days may be authorized such as during

Read More: How Military Leave Works

AAFES, Commissary Access

Military members and their families have access to many perks of military life including the ability to shop on base or on-post tax-free at Army/Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) outlets, base commissaries, “Class Six” liquor stores where available, gas stations, and much more. Depending on which branch of service is responsible for a given post or installation, you may find options including:

  • AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service)
  • MCX (Marine Corps Exchange
  • NEX (Navy Exchange Service Command)
  • CGX (Coast Guard Exchange)

Exchanges are basically like big-box retailers like Target or Walmart. You’ll find a similar variety of options there including clothing (military clothing sales, too!), electronics, household items, and sometimes even motor vehicles.

Not all amenities are offered at all installations, but the bigger the base the more elaborate the options are likely to be. To enter an on-base commissary, Base Exchange (BX), Post Exchange (PX), or another facility you must show a current military ID card, dependent ID card, etc. You may be carded for all purchases on post to verify your status as an authorized user but that is a small inconvenience.

Read More: Commissaries And Exchanges: What You Need To Know

Tax Support

There are a number of free tax support options for military members and their families. MilTax is a military-centered tax software program that walks you through a list of questions to determine which military-related tax issues may be present for the current year’s tax filing. You access MilTax through the DoD-funded Military OneSource official site.

There is also an option you can use on-post if offered there; the VITA Program, also known as Volunteer Tax Assistance. While this is not offered at every single military base in the DoD, it is offered at many of them and you can use a VITA locator to see which bases closest to you offer the option.

Read More: Free Tax Support For Military Members

Savings Coming to the Commissary This October

Commissary Savings Coming This October

Good news is coming for members of the military, veterans, and anyone who shops at the Commissary. By the middle of October, most Commissaries will have added an extra savings of 3-5%. This is a part of a DoD initiative to bolster the economic security and stability of the military community. 

For the fiscal year 2022, groceries at the Commissary were an average of 22% less than civilian grocery stores. The new goal is 25% as stated in a memorandum that came out in September. 

In the Taking Care of Our Service Members and Families Memorandum, it is stated that “The Department of Defense has a sacred obligation to take care of our Service members and families. Doing so is a national security imperative. Our military families provide the strong foundation for our Force, and we owe them our full support.”

How Does the DoD Plan to Help Military Families?

In this Memorandum, the DoD shows the different ways they plan to help military families. They include:

Securing Affordable Basic Needs

    • In addition to the 4.6% proposed pay increase, they plan to review the proposed BAH for 2023 to ensure that the numbers reflect the unusually dynamic fluctuations in the housing market.
    • They want to fully fund the Commissaries so that they are at 25% savings on civilian stores vs the 22% now. This is where the 3-5% savings is coming from. 
    • Pay eligible service members a Basic Needs Allowance starting January 2023. 

Making Moves Easier

    • Permanently increasing standard TLE maximum coverage from 10 days to 14 for CONUS moves and allowing up to 60 days of TLE if a service member is in a specified Military Housing Area with a housing shortage. 
    • Increase the DLA allowances for E-1 to E-6 service members.
    • Continue improvements to MilitaryOneSource, the Department’s information portal for military families. 

Strengthen the Support to Families

    • Make significant investments in CDP facilities and infrastructure. 
    • Standardize a minimum 50% employee discount for the first child of CDP direct-care workers. 
    • Improve access to childcare programs and resources. 

Expand Spousal Employment

    • Accelerate the development of 7 additional occupational licensure interstate compacts with organizations representing multiple professions. 
    • Increase the use of noncompetitive, direct-hiring authorities for military spouses in the DoD and further expand remote work and telework options
    • Launch a new career accelerator pilot initiative that matches military spouses with paid private-sector fellowships. 
    • Increase the number of partners in the MSEP program by 10%. 

You can read the entire Memorandum here

Bill Moore, director and CEO of the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), stated that The Department’s added investment in our budget allows us to reduce commissary prices at the register by about 3-5 % on most items – particularly on food staples that struggling military families need most such as bread, eggs, milk and more. With this boost, we can achieve at least 25 percent in overall savings for eligible patrons who shop their commissaries.”

It will be a good thing to see prices go down a little bit at the Commissary. We can all feel the pinch of rising prices in our world, and hopefully, this, along with other items that the DoD has proposed will make life a little bit easier. 

 

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