May 15 is Armed Forces Day, which celebrates soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Guardians and Coast Guardsmen. Service members don’t need to wait until separating to start using benefits they earned.
Here are seven ways service members can start using VA.
1. Buy a home
Private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies, provide VA Home Loans. The program guarantees a portion of the loan, enabling the lender to provide more favorable terms. VA Home Loans offer no down payment and no mortgage insurance. Service members and Veterans can use the benefit again and again because the benefit never expires. Service members and Veterans can use a VA home load to buy, refinance or tap into home equity. VA home loans also have no cap in the amount a service member of Veteran can borrow. Learn more at https://www.benefits.va.gov/homeloans/.
2. Learn about the GI Bill
GI Bill benefits help service members and Veterans pay for college, graduate school, and training programs. Since 1944, the GI Bill has helped qualifying Veterans and their family members get money to cover all or some of the costs for school or training.
The GI Bill website has information about rates, eligible school, transferring unused GI Bill benefits to a spouse or dependent child, and more. Learn more at https://www.va.gov/education/about-gi-bill-benefits/.
3. Visit a Vet Center
Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers. They provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including professional readjustment counseling. Eligible Veterans, active duty service members, including National Guard and Reserve components, and their families can use the services.
Confidentiality is very important, and Vet Centers recognize this. Vet Centers are safe places to discuss feelings or emotions that may arise after transitioning out of the military, experiences endured while serving in combat, from sexual assault or trauma that occurred while serving.
Records are not linked to any mental or behavioral health records. They will not be shared with VA Medical Centers or the Department of Defense without a signed release of information from the Veteran or Servicemember unless there is a serious intent to harm.
Vet Center counselors and outreach staff, often Veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief and transition after trauma.
Find a Vet Center at https://www.va.gov/find-locations/?facilityType=vet_center.
4. Create a VA.gov account
The VA’s website at https://www.va.gov/ allows Veterans to access and manage VA benefits and health care. Keeping contact information up to date so VA knows how to reach a Veteran is an important part. Learn how at https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/50992/veterans-can-now-update-contact-information-online/.
5. Sign up for VetResources Newsletter
The VetResources weekly newsletter shares VA and non-VA programs and service that Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors can use right now. Many times, these include information for active duty service members as well. The newsletter includes items like free and discounted tickets to events, free access to national parks, programs to help recovery, stories affecting Veterans and even free tele-yoga sessions. Sign up for VetResources at www.va.gov/VetResources.
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6. Connect with VA social media
VA publishes stories to VAntage Point, the official blog at https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/. Social media users can also find VA on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/VeteransAffairs, Twitter at https://twitter.com/DeptVetAffairs, Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/deptvetaffairs/ and YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/deptvetaffairs/.
7. Download the VA Welcome Kit
Navigating VA’s benefits and services can be challenge at times. Many service members don’t realize the full scope of resources they have or will have available to them. The VA Welcome Kit is a quick, step-by-step guide to understanding what is available. It also breaks down what service members need to apply or where to turn for assistance. Download the VA Welcome Kit at https://www.va.gov/welcome-kit/