Military Benefits at a GlanceUpdated: December 23, 2022
There are many benefits offered to those who join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Marine Corps, and even the Coast Guard. Military vets and active duty aren’t the only ones who can qualify for benefits–Guard and Reserve members, military spouses, and military children are all potential beneficiaries of many of the military benefits offered.
You’ll find a wide variety of military-themed blogs and websites out there touting the following as some of the benefits of military service–even the military itself sometimes advertises the following as military benefits:
- A guaranteed paycheck
- Cash bonuses
- Advanced Training
- Specialty Training
- 30 days annual paid vacation
- Health and Dental Care
- Access to commissaries
- Access to Military Exchange stores
- VA home loans and discounts
- Unparalleled sense of patriotism, duty, honor and selfless service
- Highly sought-after skills, leadership and training experience
As good as they are, can any of the above really be considered military benefits? Some yes, some no. All employers offer a guaranteed paycheck. All employers should offer some form of healthcare for full time hires, some offer signing bonuses, and the “Unparalleled sense of patriotism, duty, honor and selfless service” line may be true, but doesn’t translate into specific incentives to sign up.
So what does?
Military Benefits For Education, Healthcare, And More
Military benefits and incentives are numerous and can be broken down into some basic categories:
Healthcare Benefits–options to use the military healthcare system, TRICARE networks, and combinations of the two
Home Loan Benefits–the VA home loan program is offered to all qualifying servicemembers and certain surviving spouses at reduced interest rates and no down payment for most qualified borrowers
Retirement Benefits–the military has retirement pay plans for those who serve 20 years or more and leave military service as retirees
Military Healthcare Benefits
Healthcare is one of the most important military benefits. All military members and their families have access to medical benefits through TRICARE, which insures the following:
- Active duty service members and family members
- National Guard members and families
- Reservists and families
- Survivors of military members
- Former spouses
- Medal of Honor recipients and families
- Those registered in DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System)
Active duty servicemembers and their families sign up for this military healthcare program with the following benefits for enrollment in a TRICARE Prime program:
- No enrollment fees
- No in-network copays
- Active duty service members receive no out-of-pocket costs
- Active duty family members receive minimal out-of-pocket costs
There are non-Prime TRICARE options available for family members, but those on Active Duty must choose between one of four Prime options.
Those stationed at a military base stateside or overseas that provides on-base care may be assigned a Primary Care Manager (PCM) in the location where you are required to get your medical care. Those who need care outside the scope of the PCM and facility where assigned may require referrals from the PCM to other care providers.
On-base military care may be available depending on location, mission demands, and other variables; for example there is an extensive network of military hospitals in Southern California, but at certain bases in the south and midwest only limited outpatient care and/or non-emergency services may be offered. In such cases TRICARE network options must be used.
Military Home Loan Benefits
The VA Loan program offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs offers those with qualifying military service the option to apply for low-interest, no-money-down (in most cases) home loans. The VA mortgage loan program features the ability to buy, build, improve, and/or refinance a home.
Perks of the VA mortgage loan program include:
- Low-interest rates due to government loan guarantee
- No VA-required down payment in most cases
- No VA-required private mortgage insurance
- No penalty for early payoff
- Seller may finance a limited amount of closing costs
- Those with non-VA mortgages can refinance into VA loans
- Flexible loan approval terms (no VA-required FICO score minimums though borrowers are required to financially qualify)
- VA help with foreclosure avoidance measures where needed
VA home loan options include cash-out refinancing, the ability to purchase condo units and mobile homes from participating lenders willing to issue those loans, and streamline refinance options for existing VA mortgages to get a lower rate, lower payments, get out of an adjustable rate mortgage, etc.
Military education benefits come in a variety of forms including the GI Bill and its’ most recent round of improvements and upgrades via the Forever GI Bill offering increased flexibility in transferring GI Bill benefits to a spouse or dependent, the ability to recoup GI Bill benefits from schools that have closed or been declared unsuitable for the program.
GI Bill benefits include a monthly housing stipend for those attending under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the ability to attend classes in-person, remotely or a combination of the two, and a Yellow Ribbon program that helps fill the gap between the GI Bill’s payments and the remainder of tuition expenses for those attending private, non-state-supported schools (who charge more than the public schools they compete with).
For spouses and dependents, there are options that include the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship offered to children and spouses of service members who died in the line of duty after Sept. 10, 2001. Another program, the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program provides education benefits to “eligible dependents of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled” via a service-related condition.It is also provided for qualifying dependents of veterans “who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition”.
The Military Tuition Assistance Program is a way for active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members to pay for college without dipping into valuable GI Bill benefits. This program pays up to 100% of tuition expenses “for semester hours costing $250 or less” according to the Department of Defense. The services also offer military spouse tuition assistance, which may be applied for via each service’s official site or on-base at a local military installation.
Another benefit–Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC), which is a cooperative partnership between civilian schools that helps simplify the transfer of college credit between participating schools, reduces the overall number of credit hours military members must earn to be awarded a degree, offers on-base classes, and more.
These colleges are open to both military members and their families. Your unit education officer or base education office can provide more information about SOC.
Life Insurance Benefits
When you enlist in the military, you become eligible for Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance or SGLI, which is made available to you upon enlistment. According to VA.gov, this automatic life insurance coverage is for $400,000, and there is an automatic coverage policy for dependent children and spouses. At the time of this writing, the basic SGLI premium rate is “6 cents per $1,000 of insurance” according to VA.gov.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers burial options for service members, including no-cost burial in a national cemetery, and private cemetery options which may include a government burial marker or headstone, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Those who choose a private cemetery may be eligible for a burial allowance depending on circumstances.
For national cemeteries, the VA advises, “Gravesites in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemeteries cannot be reserved in advance. You should advise your family of your wishes and where your discharge papers* are kept. These papers are very important in establishing your eligibility.”
A veteran’s dependents may also be eligible to be buried with the service member in a national cemetery, but for those who choose the private cemetery, this would not be an option.
Most people serving today will require some form of transition assistance when the time comes to switch from a career in uniform, to a new adventure in the civilian sector. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers Vocational Rehabilitation and the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to help.
According to the VA official site, part of TAP includes “…a series of modules that help you pursue your post-service goals and develop an individual transition plan to ensure that you meet the required career-readiness standards for separation”. TAP is run in partnership with a wide range of federal agencies including the Small Business Administration “Boots To Business” program.
Military members who are retiring or separating from military service are normally required to begin transition counseling and related appointments roughly one year from their Retirement or Separation Date. The Transition Assistance Program offers specialized courses in partnership with the Department of Labor to help those who want to become small business owners, pursue higher education, or explore vocational options post-military.
Military Retirement Pay
The military has several retirement plans available depending on what year the military member entered active service. All of today’s new recruits will be entered into the Blended Retirement System (BRS), which is described by the DoD as a federal retirement plan featuring a “Government contribution that equals 1% of basic or inactive duty pay to a tax-advantaged retirement account (Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)) after 60 days following the entry into Uniformed Service.”
Those enrolled in the Blended Retirement System have the ability to receive “up to an additional 4% matching contribution from the Government to TSP beginning after 2nd year of service through 26th year of service” according to the DoD.
There are other types of retirement plans (offered to those with qualifying dates of service) but all who join today’s Army, Air Force, Space Force, Navy, or Marine Corps after 1 January 2018 are offered BRS.
Retirement pay is not offered to those who do not serve the full 20 years or other specified time unless they have been offered “early-out” options or similar alternatives to serving the full amount of time in uniform required to draw military retirement pay. Some military members may be “medically retired” depending on circumstances and medical issues, but these are handled on a case-by-case basis.