Military Benefits: Death Gratuity

The death gratuity program provides for a special tax free payment of $100,000 to eligible survivors of members of the Armed Forces, who die while on active duty or while serving in certain reserve statuses. The death gratuity is the same regardless of the cause of death.

The longstanding purpose of the death gratuity has been to provide immediate cash payment to assist survivors of deceased members of the Armed forces to meet their financial needs during the period immediately following a member’s death and before other survivor benefits, if any, become available.

The death gratuity is payable for death of members in a reserve status while performing authorized travel to or from active duty, while on inactive-duty training, or while performing authorized travel directly to or from active duty for training or inactive duty training, as well as, members of reserve officers’ training programs who die while performing annual training duty under orders for a period of more than 13 days or while performing authorized travel to or from that duty, to applicants for membership in reserve officers’ training corps who die while attending travelling to or from field training or a practice cruise and to persons travelling to from or while at a place of acceptance for entry upon active duty.

The death gratuity is also payable if an eligible member or former member dies within 120 days of release or discharge from active duty, or active duty for training when the Secretary of Veterans Affairs determines that the death resulted from injury or disease incurred or aggravated during such duty.

Eligible Survivor

Prior to May 25, 2007, the death gratuity was payable according to a specific hierarchy prescribed in law with limited opportunity for the member to designate a beneficiary.

Since July 1, 2008, a member may designate any person or persons to receive up to 100% of the death gratuity (in 10% increments) with any remaining undesignated amount payable according to a new prescribed hierarchy. The new beneficiary hierarchy for the amount of the death gratuity not covered by a designation shall be paid as follows:

  1. If there is none of the above, to other next of kin of the person entitled under the laws of domicile of the person at the time of the person’s death.
  2. To the surviving spouse of the person, if any.
  3. If there is no surviving spouse, to any surviving children (as prescribed in the note for item 2 of the pre-2008 hierarchy, above) of the person and the descendants of any deceased children by representation.
  4. If there is none of the above, to the surviving parents of the person or the survivor of them.
  5. If there is none of the above, to the duly appointed executor or administrator of the estate of the person.

Notes:

Item (1), Surviving Spouse. If a person has a spouse, but designates a person other than the spouse to receive all or or a portion of the amount payable, the Secretary of the Military Department shall provide notice of the designation to the spouse.

Item (3), Treatment of Parents. Parents include fathers and mothers through adoption. However, only one father and one mother may be recognized in any case, and preference shall be given to those who exercised a parental relationship on the date, or most nearly before the date, on which the decedent entered military service.

If a person entitled to all or a portion of a death gratuity dies before the person recieves the death gratuity, it shall be paid to the living survivor next in the order prescribed.

Designation of Eligible Survivors

Members may designate eligible survivors, at any time, by updating their DD Form 93, Record of Emergency Data.

VA: Urgent Care Benefits

Thanks to the passage of the VA Mission Act of 2018, veterans who are eligible for VA health care benefits have expanded access to urgent care treatment as an option for minor medical issues. Updates to the program in 2019 allows veterans to access health services via “approved non-VA medical providers” according to the VA official site.

The Purpose Of The VA Mission Act

The VA Mission Act was signed into law in 2018 and provides for changes in the VA health care system including requirements that the VA “coordinate the furnishing of hospital care, medical services, and extended care services” to insure:

  • Scheduling of medical appointments in a timely manner.
  • Establishing a “mechanism to receive medical records from non-Department providers.”
  • Ensuring continuity of care and services.
  • Ensuring coordination “among regional networks if the covered veteran accesses care and services in a different network than the regional network in which the covered veteran resides.”
  • Establishing measures to prevent eligible veterans from having “a lapse in care resulting from errors or delays by the Department or its contractors or an unusual or excessive burden in accessing hospital care, medical services, or extended care services.”

The VA Mission Act, “subject to the availability of appropriations” must provide hospital care, medical services, and extended care services even if the VA itself “does not offer the care or services” a veteran needs under certain circumstances.

The availability of urgent care and walk-in care is one of the ways the Act has expanded the availability of care under the VA health care system.

Eligible Veterans can, thanks to the Act, receive care or treatment from an urgent care provider as long as that provider is a part of the VA network of authorized urgent care centers.

When The VA Will Pay For Urgent Care Services

Veterans who need urgent care may have that care paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs when the following applies:

  • The medical care provided is not on the list of excluded services such as preventive medicine or dental care.
  • The Veteran is eligible for the urgent care benefit.
  • The care provider is part of VA’s contracted network of community providers.

Veterans who choose to use an urgent care facility that is not in the VA network should assume they will be required to pay the entire cost of such services.

VA Payment For Prescriptions Issued During An Urgent Care Visit

The Department of Veterans Affairs agrees to cover the cost of or fill the prescriptions given during an urgent care visit to a provider in the network.

Routine care prescriptions must be filled by the VA, and when prescribed medication with a supply of 14 days or less, eligible veterans are allowed to have the script filled at “a contracted pharmacy in the VA network or the prescription can be filled at a non-contracted pharmacy.”

In cases where a non-contracted pharmacy is used, the veteran is required to pay out of pocket and submit a claim to be reimbursed with a local VA medical facility. Prescription medication may or may not require a copay.

The Department of Veterans Affairs official site advises that an annual medication copayment cap applies for veterans in VA Priority Groups 2 through 8 (see below). The co-pay cap is $700 per calendar year. Veterans in VA Priority Group 1 have no medication copayment required.

How To Check If You Are Eligible For Urgent Care Under The VA Mission Act

The VA official site directs veterans to check with their local VA medical facility to check eligibility for these services and VA payment for them. Veterans who are eligible may locate an authorized urgent care facility near them by checking the VA provider locator tool on its official site.

To find an available urgent care provider in VA’s contracted network of community providers, Veterans will be able to use VA’s provider locator on VA.gov.

There Is A Difference Between Urgent Care And Emergency Care

The Department of Veterans Affairs notes a marked difference between urgent care and emergency care. The services offered for urgent care under the VA Mission Act include, according to the VA, “…minor injuries or illnesses that are not life threatening.”

Emergency care, which is not part of the scope of the Urgent Care benefit, is defined by the VA as any medical service required without delay to avoid threats to life or limb.

Urgent Care Services Provided Under The VA Mission Act

Qualifying veterans may seek urgent care from an in-network provider for “non-emergent symptoms” for conditions including flu, minor injuries such as sprained ankles or wrists, bruises, skin irritation, injuries that require splints or casts, earache, painful urination or related issues. Care may be given in two basic types of care centers in the VA network; Urgent and Retail.

The VA defines these two locations as follows:

  • Urgent care facilities may include locations “whose purpose is to diagnose and treat illness or injury for unscheduled, ambulatory patients seeking immediate medical attention” that is non-emergency care. Care at these locations may include splints, casts or other attention that may be more advanced than the services required from a Retail outlet.
  • Retail may be a walk-in clinic, pharmacy, or independent clinic. These may be inside a retail outlet such as WalMart or Target. The mention of these two retail chains does not imply they are actually part of the VA network-you will need to check with the VA to find authorized, in-network locations near you. Do not assume that WalMart or Target are authorized VA urgent care providers.

Remember, if you have a medical condition that is not well-understood or may be complicated to explain to a new care provider, it may be best to discuss treatment with your primary care provider first. Any situation that may be a threat to life or limb should not be dealt with using urgent care services; you may require emergency treatment instead depending on circumstances.

“Special Authority And Exposure”

In the above VA copayment rules for urgent care, there are certain exclusions (see above) for special authority and exposure cases. What does this mean? VA.gov defines “special authorities and exposure” as “those related to combat service and exposures.” This can include but may not be limited to:

  • Agent Orange
  • Military Sexual Trauma
  • Active duty at Camp Lejeune
  • Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD/Project 112)
  • Southwest Asia Conditions)
  • Presumptions applicable to certain Veterans with psychosis and other mental illnesses
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation

VA Urgent Care Benefit Copayment Issues

You may be required to make a copayment for authorized VA urgent care services, and that co-pay may differ from other copayment requirements you have experienced under the VA health care system.

The nature and amount of the copayment you are responsible for depends on your VA priority group and the number of times you visit an in-network urgent care provider within the year.

  • Copayment Rules For VA Priority Groups 7-8: A modest copayment applies for each visit.
  • Copayment Rules For VA Priority Groups 1-5: No copayment for the first three visits during a calendar year. For all visits beyond the first three per year a modest copayment applies.
  • Copayment Rules For VA Priority Group 6: No copayment for the first three visits during a calendar year in cases where the visits are related to “special authority” or exposure. If the visit is not related to “special authority” or exposure, there is a modest copayment per any visit. For those who meet the “special authority” or exposure requirement, there is a modest co-pay for every visit after the third one.

For all VA priority groups, there is no copayment required for visits specifically for flu shots only. Furthermore, flu shot-only visits “do not count as a visit for the number of visits in a calendar year for eligible Veterans in priority groups 1-6” according to VA.gov.

 

Military Marriage Counseling

Military marriage counseling: what to expect and available resources for military members and their spouses.

It’s no secret that military marriages see higher rates of divorce than civilian marriages. From leaving your support system because of frequent moves to feeling isolated because of deployments to suspected or realized infidelity, one thing is for sure: Being married in the military can be a lonely and sometimes unrelenting journey.

All married couples face conflict and all couples go through low periods in their relationship. However, not all couples have to deal with those challenges while preparing for a last minute move across the country or for a spouse to deploy or be TDY overseas for an extended period of time. Rather than try to deal with problems on your own or give up because it seems like the issues never end, maybe couples counseling is the first step to getting your marriage back on track.

Counselors offer an unbiased, neutral perspective on your marriage and provide solutions and team exercises to work through them. Your best friend back home loves you, but she wants to support you and cannot offer your marriage an unobstructed opinion. Plus, when we try to work out couple’s problems by consulting friends, we typically cast ourselves in the best light by leaving out the bad and the ugly of what was said and done. Your counselor does not know you from Adam and can see the situation as objectively as possible.

If you’re considering couples counseling, it might be helpful to know what to expect:

  • Therapy is often short term, though there is nothing wrong with continuing with counseling for several months. The counselor is there to help you and your spouse understand your differences and work through them rationally. If you or your spouse are dealing with mental illness, substance abuse, or other issues, your therapist may suggest getting additional help through your health care provider to more effectively treat the root problem.
  • You’ll talk about the good and the bad parts of your relationship and work to understand the sources of your conflict. Keep in mind that it might be hard to talk through your problems at first. For the first few sessions, you and your spouse might not say anything at all or you could argue the entire time. Both are entirely okay; there is no “right” or “wrong” way to utilize counseling.
  • You might have couple’s homework. To learn how to better communicate, your therapist may suggest exercises to help you practically apply what you’ve learned during your sessions. For example, you may be asked to be present in your relationship by telling your partner throughout the day how much you appreciate them. This could be as simple as saying “thank you” when your spouse takes the trash out or puts away the dishes.

Military Marriage Resources

Seeking help is just one step away – here are a few resources to help you find the best service for you and your spouse:

Military OneSource offers free, confidential face-to-face counseling. After a screening call with a consultant, you’ll be authorized for up to 12 counseling sessions with a medical provider in your area. This service is available to active-duty, National Guard and reserve members of any activation service, their immediate family members, and survivors. Military OneSource also offers several free webinars for couples looking to build a stronger and healthier marriage.

Seek out help from a Military Family Life Consultant (MFLC) on base at your Family Support and Readiness Center. These licensed counselors can help you with training, resources, and information including deployment support, family life education, and relationship counseling among other services. Anything you tell the MFLC is completely confidential; they take no written records. Find a consultant through one of these centers on base:

Air Force – Airman & Family Readiness Center
Army – Army Community Service
National Guard – Joint Services Support Program
Marine Corps – Marine Corps Community Services
Navy – Fleet and Family Support Center

If you’re interested in more faith-based counseling, give your base chapel a call. All counseling sessions are confidential.

In order to address common military marriage challenges before counseling is needed, the U.S. Army also offers a Strong Bonds retreat for couples, which is a unit-based, chaplain-led program. A Strong Bonds retreat offers a safe and secure environment in which couples can take a better look at the personal impact of relocations, deployments, and military lifestyle stressors.

 

Travelling: Using Military Discount

If military families are experts on anything it’s traveling. Whether we are making a PCS move cross-country, taking a road trip to visit family, or sneaking away for a post-deployment vacation, we’re always on the go.

Traveling is even more fun when you find great discounts to help you out along the way. Military families also have access to benefits available to them for many of their travel needs.

There are lots of different ways to travel and lots of ways to use military discounts and benefits. What kind of traveler are you?

Travel by Sea

Sometimes the best way to travel is by boat. A really big boat.

Cruises are fun and relaxing family vacation options. And cruise lines like Carnival, Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises and Disney Cruise Line all offer military discounts.

Travel by Air

One fun way to travel is to fly Space Available or Space A. Service members, retirees and their families can fill seats on DoD-owned or controlled aircraft that aren’t filled by space-required (duty) passengers and cargo.

While this is a great way to find discounted flights, it requires more flexibility and patience than flying on commercial airlines because schedules are subject to change and, as the name implies, seats aren’t always available on the flight you want.

Visit Air Mobility Command for more information on necessary documentation and terminals.

Want to stick with commercial airlines? Some airlines, like Southwest, Delta, American Airlines and JetBlue, offer deals to military personnel on airfare and/or baggage so make sure to ask about military discounts when booking your flight.

You can even use your military benefits to ease the hassle of layovers in between flights by relaxing at a USO center. The USO offers military families a place to kick back and watch TV, access the Internet, have a snack, let the kids run around in a play area, and even take a nap. Visit the USO website to locate a center. Don’t forget your military ID!

TSA also salutes the military by offering expedited screening. Eligible members on personal or official travel don’t need to travel in uniform to participate, and accompanying family members ages 12 and under can be processed through expedited screening as well. Learn more at the TSA website.

Travel by Land 

Not a fan of flying? You can find great military discounts when traveling by land as well.

Some families prefer to pack up the car and hit the road, but if you don’t want to put extra miles on your personal vehicle or travel requirements leave you longing for a larger vehicle, consider renting a car. You can find great military discounts at Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Penske and Sixt.

Have you always wanted to travel the open road with your family in an RV? No problem. Many MWR facilities rent campers (and you can find military campgrounds to park that camper as well). Find your local MWR office on our base guide for more details and pricing.

Want to leave the driving to someone else? Hop on a bus or train. Greyhound and Amtrak both offer 10% military discounts on rail fare. Amtrak also shows their appreciation for our troops by allowing uniformed service members to the head of the ticket line.

No matter what your travel method of choice is, you can always find military discounts as well as military benefits you already have. Safe travels!

Military Discounts: Father’s Day Gifts

While many merchants still report offering discounts during this ever-changing time of closures and alternate schedules some may not be available. Always check with the company for full details on their hours and offerings.

The third Sunday of every June is dedicated to the celebration of dads. Father’s Day is the perfect time to let the special dads in our lives know how much they’re loved and appreciated.

But what do fathers really want? Here are some ideas for the military dad in your family, along with some great deals so pampering him won’t break your bank.

1. Personal Interests

Does dad like to fish or hunt? Bass Pro Shops offers a military discount. Does he like steak? Omaha Steaks offers a 10% military discount. Would he enjoy a unique gift basket? Get a 10% discount at Man Crates. Does he enjoy amusement parks? Check out the military discounts offered by amusement parks all over the country.

2. Golf

It’s probably no coincidence that Father’s Day coincides with summertime, which is the prime season for one of dad’s favorite pastimes: golf.

Through Birdies for the Brave, the PGA TOUR offers free and discounted tickets to select PGA TOUR events for veterans, retirees, and active duty.

Most military installations have golf courses so visit your local base and pick up a gift card so he can play whenever he wants. Some bases also hold Father’s Day tournaments so go in and sign him up.

And many courses offer military discounts on golf rates, so make sure to call your local golf course to find out what they offer for the military.

3. Home Improvement

Has he been eyeing that fancy power drill? Did his favorite grill get broken in the last move? Does he need storage to help him organize all those tools in the garage? Both Home Depot and Lowes offer a year-round military discount to help you find whatever home improvement item is on his wish list.

4. Electronics and Gadgets

Computers. Cameras. Headphones. What dad couldn’t use more gadgets? The best place to start is on base at your local Exchange, but you can find military discounts at Apple as well. Don’t forget about the Exchange price match policy.

5. Cars

Thinking big this Father’s Day? Is it time for a new car? Many automakers, including Subaru and Honda, want to show their appreciation for military families by offering special pricing on their vehicles.

6. Fitness

Help dad stay in shape by using military discounts for his fitness needs. If he’s interested in a gym membership or coaching, look into the discounts offered by Gold’s Gym, 24 Hour Fitness and Beachbody.

There are also fitness options at home. Peloton, which streams live and on-demand workout classes, offers military members a free Essentials Package with the recent purchase of a bike or tread. Aaptiv, which provides access to thousands of workouts, offers a military discount on their annual subscription plan. And Barre3, which provides full-body, low-impact workouts, offers military discounts on monthly subscriptions to its online classes.

7. Family Photos

Give dad the gift of family photos. Dress the kids up and head over to JC Penney, where you can get military discounts at their portrait studio. (Don’t forget to print out the coupon before you go!)

8. Homemade Gifts

Dads can never have too many homemade gifts from the kids for Father’s Day. Whether they’re creating homemade cards, personalized signs or their own creative craft project, they’re going to need supplies. Michaels, A.C. Moore and Jo-Ann Fabrics can help you find everything you need for the perfect homemade gift from the heart.

9. Outdoor Fun

The weather is warm and summer is almost here, making Father’s Day the perfect time to head outside. Visit your local MWR on base to rent a variety of items for outdoor fun, such as kayaks, boats, bikes, fishing poles, camping gear and much more.

Happy Father’s Day!

How to Choose the Right Life Insurance

Choosing life insurance is a tough task. Here are a few tips to help you:

1. If an agent or company contacts you and wants you to cancel your current policy to buy a new one, contact your original agent or company before making any decisions. Canceling your policy to buy another could be very costly to you.

2. Take your time and make the right decision. Don’t rush into a decision.

3. When you purchase a policy, make your check payable to the insurance company — not to the agent. Be sure you are given a receipt.

4. Periodically review your life insurance plan, particularly when your financial responsibilities undergo a significant change.

5. After you have purchased an insurance policy, keep in mind that you may have a “free-look” period for 10 days after you receive the policy. You can change your mind during this period. If you decide not to keep the policy, the company will cancel the policy and give you an appropriate refund.

6. If you have a complaint about your insurance agent or company, contact the customer service division of your insurance company. If you still are dissatisfied, contact your state insurance department. Most departments have a consumer affairs division that can offer help.

7. Discuss the insurance plan with your spouse so that he or she understands which gaps the insurance proceeds are designed to fill.

8. Estimate your total insurance needs by examining the needs and various stages of your surviving spouse’s life. Buy insurance to cover those gaps.

9. Term policies will generally provide military families with the most coverage for the smallest premium and are especially appropriate for young families. (Term insurance protects the policyholder for a specified time period: one year, five years, twenty years, etc. It has no savings feature, and is therefore cheaper than other policy types.)

10. Bonus tip: Shop around. It can pay to compare rates from different companies.

What You May Not Know About VA Loans

Home ownership has long been part of the American dream. For veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs-guaranteed home loan provides a means to make that dream a reality.

Periodically, something will trigger me to revisit this valuable benefit of service. About three years ago, it was my own family weighing whether to use a VA loan for our new house (we did). This month, it was a conversation with a co-worker and military spouse who, because of a recent divorce, was disappointed that she is no longer eligible for a VA loan.

Even if you’re familiar with VA home loans, these four facts may surprise you:

1. These home loans are quick and competitive. Really. It’s common for veterans to be concerned about these two issues, but you need not worry. Today, the VA’s automated system facilitates the process from beginning to end. Typically, you can close your loan in just a few weeks. According to the loan processing firm Ellie Mae, VA purchase loans took four to five days longer than conventional loans during the early months of 2019. From an interest-rate standpoint, VA loans are typically lower than a conventional loan with the same terms.

2. A down payment may be required. The fact that there’s no requirement for a down payment and no private mortgage insurance or mortgage insurance premium is probably the VA loan’s biggest draw. In 2020, there is no set figure for which a lender will require a down payment.

3. You can use it more than once — and maybe more than once at a time. Yes, you can use a VA loan more than once. If you’ve paid off the previous loan, all of your entitlement is restored and you’re eligible to use another VA loan. One note: Subsequent use may require an increased VA funding fee. If you have a VA loan but decide to rent your home when you relocate to a new primary residence, you may be able to use another VA loan to buy your new residence and have two VA loans simultaneously. This can be a bit complex but, if the numbers work, it can be done.

4. VA home loans are attractive in a rising-rate environment. Your VA lender may allow a buyer to step in and assume your loan — a particularly nice feature if interest rates rise. The terms of the loan could be a lot more favorable for the buyer, and the cost of the transaction could be substantially less. There are liability and VA loan entitlement issues to be aware of, so you’ll want to research the ramifications with your lender.

Wedding Military Discounts

Military discounts on wedding products and services are a great benefit that many businesses provide to active duty military and even veterans in some cases. Many businesses promote these discounts and much more so the best rule of thumb is to always ask if a military discount is available. Here is our list of wedding military discounts and how to find even more.

Engagement Rings with Military Discounts

  • Allurez
    5% military discount on engagement rings, wedding bands, pendants, earrings, and all other fine jewelry.
  • Arthur’s Jewelers
    10% military discounts to Active Duty members, Reserves, Veterans and Retirees of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, National Guard and Coast Guard.
  • DreamStone
    Military members receive a discount on engagement rings by entering USTROOPS in the discount box upon check out.
  • Helzberg Diamonds
    10% discount to all active duty, retirees, disabled veterans, and dependents of active duty/retirees, on orders placed in-store, online, or at 1-800-HELZBERG. Once verified, those eligible will receive a one-time promotion code. Offer can’t be combined with any other promotion and is not applicable toward loose diamonds from Create Your Own Helzberg Diamond Ring™ or custom gemstone jewelry.
  • James Free Jewelers
    Currently serving military personnel and their immediate family receive 15% off every day. Please show valid ID to store associate or use .mil address when ordering online.
  • Larson Jewelers
    Active duty military members receive 5% off the purchase of wedding rings and bands.
  • Moissante Bridal
    Military members receive 5% off the purchase of an engagement ring.
  • Since1910.com
    Ready to pop the big question and put a ring on it? Get 5% off on an engagement ring of your choice (maximum price of $10,000) by simply providing your US military email address.
  • Tiffany
    10% off engagement rings and wedding bands for U.S. active duty, reservists and veterans plus fiancés, domestic partners, wives and husbands. U.S. only.

    Free Chapels

    • One of the best perks of being in the military when it comes to tying the knot is that the base chapel is typically free including chaplain performing the wedding ceremony with a variety choices including almost any religious denomination, non-religious, military, civilian and casual. Start with the Chaplain’s office to find out more.

    Free or Cheap Wedding Reception Venues

    • Military bases also offer a variety of options to host wedding receptions at significantly lower cost than non-military venues, hotels or resorts. Depending on where the military base is located and the venues available venues can range from the officer, enlisted or joint-rank clubs, chapel, meeting halls, beaches, lakes, mountains and much more.
    • Weddings for Warriors
      Weddings for Warriors provides free vow-renewals and weddings to active duty military couples. Everything is included from bridal gowns, photography, hair and makeup, the venue and food. This program started in Savannah, Georgia but is now done throughout the United States. Apply to Weddings for Warriors to participate.

    Wedding Dresses for Free or with Military Discount

    • Banana Republic – 15% discount for active duty, military veterans, and dependents. Valid in store only with valid ID.
    • Brides Across America Military Bride Wedding Gown Giveaway
      Multiple bridal retailers and wedding dress designers work with this organization to provide free wedding dresses to military brides. Special wedding dress events are held throughout the year where they giveaway wedding dresses. Check out their site for a listing of the next free wedding dress event in a city near you.
    • Dress Barn – Discount and participation varies by location. Have a military ID with you and ask.
    • Larenas, Somerset, PA
      Save 15% on a bridal gown at Larenas by presenting a valid military ID.
    • New York & Company – Receive a 15% discount at participating locations. 
    • Unique Vintage – Military members receive 10% off through ID.me.

    Local Wedding Venues & Services with Military Discounts

    • Battlefield Bed and Breakfast Inn, Gettysburg, PA
      Active duty military are offered 10% off any room or suite, all year round, at this 12-room bed and breakfast, located in a Historic 1809 Field Stone Farmhouse. Active Duty Military receive a 10% discount on all wedding and reception packages. This includes the small, medium, and large size wedding packages, and elopement packages. Reserve online or call (717) 334-8804.
    • Lomas Santa Fe Country Club, Solana Beach, CA
      Free ceremony site fee (a $1,500 value) for those who have served or continue to serve in the United States Military.
    • Los Verdes Golf Course, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
      A free ceremony site fee (a $2,800 value) is offered for those who have served or continue to serve in the U.S. military. Some restrictions may apply, and this offer is only valid for new event bookings.
    • Marcus Weddings, Milwaukee, WI
      25% discount on any Wedding package or reception for active U.S. Military personnel. Includes the following hotels in the Milwaukee area: Pfister Hotel, Hilton Milwaukee, Intercontinental Milwaukee and Grand Geneve Resort. Cancellation fees will be WAIVED for any wedding receptions that must be cancelled or rescheduled due to unanticipated deployment.
    • True Photography Wedding Photographer, San Diego, CA
      10% military discount on wedding photography to all who have served the U.S. Armed Forces including veterans and active duty personnel.

 

Money Mistakes Made by Military Families

Lots of us make mistakes with our money — even me. There’s a lot to learn, and we’re always stumbling into new situations.

While I’m educating people about their finances, I see the same oversights again and again. While the big ones are more obvious, there are a couple of seemingly smaller mistakes that can be just as dangerous, but are not always as obvious.

No Renters’ Insurance

Renters’ insurance seems like such a small thing, right until you have a catastrophic disaster and you have to use it. Even if you think that you “don’t have much,” think for a minute how much it would cost to replace even basic furniture, kitchen items, linens, clothes and uniforms.

Plus, renters’ insurance covers more than just your stuff. While every policy may be different, it also usually covers your liability if you do something wrong. (Forgot to turn off the stove? Left the water running in the sink?) or if someone gets hurt at your house. And most policies include loss-of-use coverage, which helps if your house or apartment is uninhabitable for some reason.

Unless your belongings are covered under a homeowner’s policy, you should have renters’ insurance. It’s cheap, and most insurance companies offer it. Check with your auto insurer, and then maybe shop around for other companies. If you really research it, it might take you an hour to find a good policy. Don’t wait.

Lunches/Vending Machines/Drive-Through Spending

This is a personal problem for me. In normal times, I spend way too much of my allowance on crap food and drinks. Even a healthy choice of an unsweetened iced tea is $2-$3 at most convenience stores and fast food restaurants. Start getting into actual food, and/or a car full of kids, and that bill grows exponentially. Do that a couple of times a week and then, next thing you know, you’re spending $200 a month on, well, stuff you probably don’t need.

Thankfully, there are easy ways to cut back on the amount you’re spending on food and drinks. Stock your work and car with drinks and non-perishable snacks. My family likes individually sized bags of popcorn, nut, and granola/snack bars, plus water and Gatorade. It is not uncommon for someone to leave the house with half a meal to eat on the way somewhere. Plus, we try to bring our own drinks when we leave the house. Every little bit helps!

Misunderstanding Your Income-Tax Situation

Taxes can be confusing, so it is understandable that not everyone has a firm grasp on what is happening with their income taxes. Throw in the constantly changing details of military life, and sometimes it feels like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.

However, if you don’t know what’s going into your income-tax calculations, you can’t make smart decisions, like whether a second job will be worthwhile, or whether you want to put your TSP contributions in as Traditional or Roth. For example, many military families discover that a second income means that they receive a smaller Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which makes that income a lot less valuable. And if they don’t know how that second job is going to impact their EITC, they can’t add that to the other costs of working to see whether the job makes financial sense.

There are a couple of ways to fix this issue. I recommend that everyone go through their income-tax return line by line, and learn what it means. If you try that, and you’re still confused, have a chat with your installation’s personal financial educator. They can point out important parts that you should know, and help you project how certain decisions will impact your tax situation.

Leaving Military Benefits Unused

Military service provides a wide variety of benefits to service members and their families. Sometimes they are a little hard to find, and sometimes they are a little hard to use, but there is a huge range of programs offered by both the services and private organizations. Many families don’t even know that these opportunities exist! I’ve seen everything from a military spouse who thought she “didn’t have health insurance,” to service members who think that tuition assistance is too difficult to use, to families who aren’t getting a military discount on their cell phone bills.

This one can be a little trickier, because programs and deals and benefits aren’t always obvious, but you should definitely do research to see whether there is any way that you or your spouse’s military service can help decrease some of your expenses.

Each of these items seems relatively insignificant, but you might be surprised at how much they can cost. At the worst end of the spectrum, an apartment fire is a disaster if you don’t have insurance. But even that $2 iced tea adds up!

Not Knowing Where Your Money Goes

The first thing that most people need to do is figure out what they’re spending. Sounds easy, right? You’d be surprised! For most people, when we sit down and write down their income and expenses, there is a relatively large number left over at the end. So I ask, “Do you feel like you have $900 left at the end of every month?” Almost everyone says no, that they’re broke at the end of the month.

This problem is somehow both the easiest and hardest one to fix. It’s easy, because all you have to do is write down what you spend. It’s hard because no one wants to actually do that or they intend to do it, and then they don’t.

This is also the solution that can make the biggest impact on your overall financial health. Just knowing where your money is actually going is the first step in taking control over your financial future. So whether you use an index card wrapped around your debit card, an app on your phone, or throw all your receipts in a basket and tally them at the end of the week, do something to keep track of that money.

(Pro tip: Check your subscriptions. Do you really need Pandora AND Spotify? Netflix, Hulu AND Amazon Prime?)

What Veterans Need to Know About Federal Debts Right Now

Economic stress is affecting everyone right now, including military-connected students and veterans. It’s more important than ever that you know your rights. And you have some important new rights about your debts.

Your Stimulus Check Can’t Be Taken for Most Federal Debt, Even Unpaid Taxes

You should know that, if you received a stimulus check as part of the coronavirus stimulus package (the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act) signed into law March 27, that’s your money. The CARES Act prevents the federal government from taking your stimulus money to collect on certain federal debts you might have, even unpaid taxes.

If You Have Student Loans from a Private Bank or Private Lender (Not the Government)

Private student loans are also not covered under the CARES Act. If you have private student loans, your lender or servicer may also be offering temporary payment modifications or forbearances as a result of the ongoing crisis.

The good news is that a recent Veterans Education Success report found that the number of undergraduate student veterans who take out private student loans declined significantly with the introduction of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2009. This is a very good sign. Private student loans come with far fewer protections and are almost always more expensive than federal student loans, as our new report explains.

In addition to lower interest rates, federal student loans offer a variety of repayment options that help borrowers cope with employment challenges that may affect their ability to repay, including income-driven repayment, public student loan forgiveness, forbearance and deferment. These options may not be available from private lenders. The variety of requirements and payment options in the private market presents a challenging landscape for individual borrowers. If you have a choice, it’s best to stick to federal student loans.

If You Owe a Debt to the Department of Veterans Affairs

The CARES Act required the Education Department and Treasury Department to pause debt collection, but the law did not do the same for those who owe a debt to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Earlier this month, a veteran in financial distress came to my organization, Veterans Education Success, with a GI Bill debt and a landlord who was threatening to evict him.

“Jack” was forced to withdraw from a class last November due to his service-connected disability, which created an overpayment debt. His March and April housing allowance went to pay for that debt. In addition to appealing the debt through the VA appeals process, he made a payment arrangement with the VA where part of his disability check would go toward the overpayment each month. When he reached out to us, he had still not heard back from the VA. Despite his payment arrangements, when April hit, the VA took part of both his disability compensation and his housing allowance to pay the debt. “Jack” was going to school full time, and his wife is unable to work because she is immunocompromised. They had no money.

Fortunately, due to the decision of the governor in Jack’s state to halt all evictions for 45 days, we were able to prevent the most immediate harm from taking place. We were also able to help him resolve his claim with the VA, but not everyone is so lucky.

In response to requests from the veteran community, the VA suspended all actions on all types of veteran debts beginning April 9 for 60 days. Additionally, the department said it will consider extending the timeline (if the situation with COVID-19 makes that necessary) and will update its website to reflect the change and automatically extend suspensions for affected veterans.

The VA’s suspension of debt collection comes with two big caveats:

If you already entered into a repayment agreement with a third-party debt collector (like a collection agency or the Treasury Department), especially an automatic payment with the Automated Clearing House (ACH), those automatic payments will continue unless you contact the Treasury Department or the private collection agency to cancel the ACH.

In other words, VA debts that happened after April 9 will be automatically paused. But for debts that existed prior to April 9,, you must contact the VA to have them paused.

If You Have Federal Student Loans

If you have federal student loans held by the federal government, your monthly payment and interest rate accrual have been automatically suspended. Also, if you have defaulted on any federal student loans, the government is not allowed to come after you to “collect” on defaulted federal loans through Sept. 30, 2020. (But this covers only federal student loans that are owned by the U.S. Department of Education. Federal Family Education Loans, or FFELs, which were issued prior to 2010 by financial institutions such as banks, and Perkins Loans, which are typically owned by colleges and universities, do not qualify under the CARES Act.)

Media accounts have revealed that about 54,000 wage garnishments are still happening on federal student loan debts. They shouldn’t be. You can report them. Also, you can contact the debt collection company directly and ask whether the payment can be reversed or whether the collection firm has “hardship” programs that could temporarily suspend payments.

If you live in Illinois or Texas, those states have acted on their own to stop debt collection on federal student loan debt held by private entities. And California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York or North Carolina have also stepped in to stop some debt collection on student loans.