VA Benefits GuideUpdated: November 3, 2022
New veterans quickly learn there are many areas of life where Veteran Administration benefits apply which include education, homeownership and healthcare. There are financial advantages designed to help in the transition out of military service and into civilian life.
VA benefits are offered to both currently serving service members and those who have retired or separated from the military.
VA Benefits and Services for Those Who Have Retired or Separated From The Military
The VA’s website lists a variety of benefits for those who retired or are separated from service. They include the following:
- VA Pensions
- Disability Compensation
- GI Bill
- Veteran Rehabilitation and Employment
- Dependents’ Educational Assistance
- VA Home Loans
- Life Insurance
- Burial Benefits
VA Pension Benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs has two types of VA pension benefits.
This is a need-based, tax-exempt VA pension benefit for low-income veterans who served at least one day during wartime. Those who qualify for this benefit meet one or more of the following criteria:
- Age 65 or older
- Totally and permanently disabled
- Are in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care
- Are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance
- Are receiving Supplemental Security Income
Veterans can apply for this benefit by completing VA Form 21P-527EZ, Application for Pension. This form and any required supporting documentation must be sent to the Pension Management Center (PMC) that serves the state for the veteran where he or she lives.
VA Survivors Pension
This is a tax-free, income-based benefit intended for low-income, un-remarried surviving spouses of military members. It is also available to unmarried children who are survivors of a veteran with wartime service.
Those who are housebound or “require the aid and attendance of another person” may be eligible to receive additional pension funds. Apply for a VA Survivors Pension by completing VA Form 21P-534EZ, Application for DIC, Death Pension and/or Accrued Benefits. Applicants will need to mail this form to the Pension Management Center (PMC) that serves your state.
VA Disability Benefits
VA Disability Compensation
VA disability compensation is paid to veterans who have VA-rated, service-connected medical conditions received or complicated by military service. Some VA disability pay may be offered for disabilities occurring after military service when it’s determined that the condition may be related to military service.
VA disability pay is a tax-free benefit.
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
DIC is paid to surviving spouses, children and qualifying parents of service members who died on active duty. This compensation may also be payable in cases where the service member died while on active duty for training, and even inactive duty training. DIC is also offered to qualifying survivors of those who have died from service-connected disabilities.
This VA benefit is tax free and the DIC offered to parents is income-based.
VA Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)
This tax-free benefit is made available to veterans, military spouses, surviving spouses and parents. Special Monthly Compensation offered to veterans is paid at a higher rate due to certain needs for what the VA terms “Aid and Attendance by another person” or for a specific disability such as loss of use of one hand or leg.
For qualifying spouses and surviving spouses, SMC is a VA benefit is commonly referred to as “Aid and Attendance.” It is awarded on a need-based scale.
Other VA Disability Assistance
There are other VA programs that can help veterans and caregivers of veterans including:
- VA Specially-Adapted Housing Grants
- VA Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI)
- Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance
VA Specially Adapted Housing Grants are available to help veterans with qualifying disabilities purchase, modify, adapt or renovate homes to be more accessible. Not all disabilities qualify, but those with the following conditions may be eligible for one or more housing grant programs:
- Blindness in both eyes having only light perception, plus loss of or loss of use of one leg
- The loss of or loss of use of one lower leg together with residuals of organic disease or injury
- Loss of or loss of use of both legs
- Loss of or loss of use of both arms
- The loss of or loss of use of one leg together with the loss of or loss of use of one arm
- Certain severe burns
- The loss, or loss of use of one or more lower extremities due to service on or after Sept. 11, 2001, which so affects the functions of balance or propulsion as to preclude ambulating without the aid of braces, crutches, canes, or a wheelchair
Veterans may apply for VA Specially Adapted Housing Grants by filling out VA Form 26-4555 and submitting it to the VA along with any other required documentation.
Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI) is issued to qualifying service members for a maximum coverage amount of $10,000. The VA official site says totally disabled veterans may be eligible for a waiver of all insurance premiums of these programs and may be able to apply for a maximum S-DVI benefit of $30,000.
Veterans are permitted to apply for S-DVI if the following conditions are met:
- The veteran was released from active duty under other than dishonorable conditions on or after April 25, 1951.
- The veteran is rated for any service-connected disability at any level.
- The veteran is in otherwise good health, except for service-connected medical issues.
- The veteran applies for S-DVI within two years from the date the Department of Veterans Affairs awards the service-connected disability rating.
Veterans may apply for S-DVI by filling out VA form 29-4364, Application for Service-Disabled Veterans Life Insurance. Another publication, VA Pamphlet 29-9 describes the premiums and plans available.
VA Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) is another VA benefit for disabled veterans that helps surviving family members pay off a home loan in the event of the veteran’s death. This benefit does not have any cash value, does not pay dividends and allows up to $200,000 worth of mortgage life insurance coverage.
The VA VMLI benefit is payable only to the lender or bank. No beneficiary is permitted to be named. According to the VA official site, “The amount of coverage will equal the amount of the mortgage still owed, but the maximum can never exceed $200,000.”
This program is only open to service members still on duty and veterans who:
- Received a Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant to help build, remodel, or purchase a home
- Are named on the title to the home
- Still make mortgage payments on the home
- Apply for VMLI before their 70th birthday
VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)
The VA VR&E program is designed to assist veterans get training, seek reasonable accommodations on the job, create and refine resumes and learn job seeking skills.
There are also VR&E services available to help veterans start small businesses. There is assistance for disabled veteran with independent living who cannot work in “traditional employment,” according to the VA official site. Veterans may apply for education and career counseling via the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those eligible for VR&E include:
- Transitioning Service members within six months before discharge from active duty
- Veterans who apply before one year discharge from active duty has passed
- Any Service member/Veteran currently eligible for a VA education benefit
- All current VA education beneficiaries
Dependents’ Educational Assistance
Dependents of veterans and those who have survived veterans may be eligible for one of two VA education programs:
- The Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry Scholarship is open to qualifying children and spouses of service members who died in the line of duty after Sept. 10, 2001. Apply for this benefit using VA Form 22-5490, Dependents Application for VA Education Benefits. Submit the form and any additional documentation to the Regional Processing Office with jurisdiction over the state where you live.
- The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program provides education and training opportunities to eligible military dependents. The veteran must be VA-rated as permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition. The children of veterans who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition are also eligible for this benefit.
Apply online or by completing VA Form 22-5490, Dependents Application for VA Education Benefits, and submit to the appropriate VA regional processing office.
GI Bill Benefits
Veterans who served at least 90 days of active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, or who were honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability after serving 30 continuous days after Sept. 10, 2001 may be eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.
The GI Bill program experienced considerable changes in 2017 due to the passage of legislation approving the Forever GI Bill, but in general the education benefits under this program include the following:
- Payment of tuition and fees to the eligible school of your choice including online programs
- A monthly housing stipend equivalent to the basic allowance for housing (BAH) payable for the zip code of the eligible school. This BAH payment is based on the housing allowance for an E-5 with dependents when the student is taking classes in-residence
- Books and supplies stipend up to $1000 per year
- Up to 36 months of education entitlement
- Eligible for use at colleges, universities, trade schools, and for on-the-job training at approved programs
- This program may also pay for approved tutoring, licensing, and certification testing
The GI Bill may be transferable to spouses or dependent children if the veteran meets certain qualifying criteria. Apply for the GI Bill via the VA’s official website. There are many changes for GI Bill benefits due to the Forever GI Bill, it is best to check the VA official site to see what the latest changes or developments of this program may be at application time.
VA Home Loan Benefits
Veterans who have served a minimum time in uniform may qualify for VA home loan benefits. The VA requirements for the amount of time served will depend greatly on the era when the veteran joined the military. The VA official site has a long list of date ranges and eligibility criteria. Those who meet the minimum requirements for eligibility may apply for a variety of home loan benefits including:
- Purchase Loans
- Cash-Out Refinance Loans
- Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL)
- Native-American Direct Loan (NADL) Program
- VA Adapted Housing Grants
Being eligible for the VA home loan benefit does not equal automatic home loan approval. Eligibility means the veteran is able to apply for a mortgage loan with a participating VA lender. The loan approval itself will depend on the borrower’s credit rating, credit history, income, and other variables.
VA Life Insurance for Veterans
Service Members’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI)
SGLI is a life insurance program for active duty service members that may be extended for qualifying veterans after retiring or separating.
All veterans covered under the program receive 120 days of free coverage starting on the service member’s date of separation. This coverage may be extended for up to two years if the service member is totally disabled at separation. At the end of this extension period, qualifying veterans automatically become eligible for VGLI, but will be required to pay insurance premiums.
Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI)
VGLI lets veterans continue their life insurance coverage once leaving the military and after SGLI coverage expires. This program offers lifetime coverage as long as the veteran continues to pay the monthly premium.
The maximum amount of coverage per veteran is the same amount of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage the veteran carried at the time of retirement/separation. Smaller coverage amounts are also available.
Veterans who enroll in VGLI may increase coverage amounts by $25,000 every five years until age 60 and/or a maximum coverage amount of $400,000.
Vets can apply for VGLI up to a year and 120 days from the official date of separation listed on discharge paperwork. Those applying within 240 days from the date of separation will not be required to take a health screening.
Those with certain medical conditions making them otherwise uninsurable are urged to apply within the 240 day period.
VA Burial Benefits for Veterans
Veterans who wish to be buried in one of 136 VA national cemeteries are entitled to a Presidential Memorial Certificate, gravesite, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care of the site, a government-provided headstone or burial marker and a burial flag.
Certain qualifying veterans may also be eligible for a VA burial allowance. Cremation is also an option, but the VA does not pay for cremation directly. Compensation for such services may depend on the eligibility for a burial allowance.
Veterans who wish to use VA burial benefits are urged to put this desire in writing and notify family members. It is also vital to provide next-of-kin with discharge paperwork and other required documentation. VA burial benefit eligibility can be determined in advance of the need for burial. Information on scheduling a burial can be obtained at 1-800-535-1117.