Veterans Healthcare: Agent Orange

The VA offers health care and disability benefits for veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides during military service. Your dependents and survivors also may be eligible for benefits.

If you were exposed to Agent Orange between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, you may be eligible to enroll in VA health care.

What Is Agent Orange And How Were People Exposed To It?

“Agent Orange” refers to a blend of tactical herbicides the U.S. military sprayed in the jungles of Vietnam and around the Korean demilitarized zone to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover. Herbicides were also used by the U.S. military to defoliate military facilities in the U.S. and in other countries as far back as the 1950s.

For the purposes of VA compensation benefits, Veterans who served anywhere in Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides, as specified in the Agent Orange Act of 1991. These Veterans do not need to show that they were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides in order to get disability compensation for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.

Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam were used, tested or stored elsewhere, including some military bases in the United States. Other locations/scenarios in which Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange may include:

  • Personnel who served off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, within 12 nautical miles of the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia, along a line of demarcation spelled out in the lawveterans
  • Korean Demilitarized Zone – Exposure along the demilitarized zone in Korea between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971
  • Thailand Military Bases – Possible exposure on or near the perimeters of military bases between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975
  • Herbicide Tests and Storage Outside Vietnam- Possible exposure due to herbicide tests and storage at military bases in the U.S. and locations in other countries
  • Agent Orange Residue on Airplanes Used in Vietnam War – Possible exposure of crew members to herbicide residue in C-123 planes flown after the Vietnam War
  • Veterans with one or more of the presumptive diseases whose claims were previously denied. It also includes those with new claims.
  • Children with spina bifida born to veterans who served in Thailand between January 1962 and May 1975.
  • Veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone between Sept. 1, 1967, and Aug. 31, 1971

What Diseases And Conditions Can Agent Orange Exposure Cause?

VA presumes the following diseases to be service-connected for such exposed Veterans:

  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,
  • AL amyloidosis,
  • Chloracne or other acneform disease similar to chloracne,
  • Chronic B-cell leukemias (including, but not limited to, hairy-cell leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia),
  • Diabetes mellitus (Type 2),
  • Hodgkin’s disease,
  • Ischemic heart disease.
  • Parkinson’s disease,
  • Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
  • Porphyria cutanea tarda,
  • Prostate cancer,
  • Respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, trachea),
  • Soft-tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
  • Multiple myeloma

VA offers health care benefits for veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service. These services include an Agent Orange Registry health exam and clinical treatment at VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center.

Agent Orange Effects On Children Of Veterans

Children who have spina bifida or certain other birth defects and are biological children of veterans with qualifying service in Vietnam or Korea may be eligible for a range of VA benefits, including:

  • Compensation – a monthly monetary allowance based on the child’s degree of disability
  • Health care benefits
  • Vocational training, which provides up to 24 months of full-time training, rehabilitation and job assistance with the possibility of an extension up to 24 months if needed to achieve the employment goal. The child may not begin vocational training before his or her 18th birthday or the date he or she completes secondary schooling, whichever comes first.

Agent Orange Registry Health Exam

VA’s Agent Orange Registry health exam alerts veterans to possible long-term health problems that may be related to Agent Orange exposure during their military service. The registry data helps VA understand and respond to these health problems more effectively.

The exam is free to eligible Veterans and enrollment in VA health care is not necessary. Although the findings of your exam may be used to inform your subsequent care, they may not be used when applying for compensation as a separate exam is required.

Disability Compensation

Veterans who want to be considered for disability compensation for health problems related to Agent Orange exposure must file a claim. During the claims process, VA will check military records to confirm exposure to Agent Orange or qualifying military service. If necessary, VA will set up a separate exam for compensation.

Veterans Medical Benefits Package

Many veterans are eligible for health care from the VA. Like other health care plans, the Medical Benefits Package emphasizes preventive and primary care, offering a full range of outpatient and inpatient services. The following is a summary of the Veteran’s Medical Benefits Package:

Veteran’s Medical Benefits Package Eligibility

The Medical Benefits Package is generally provided to all enrolled veterans regardless of your priority group.

How Much Does VA Healthcare Cost?

The VA will provide you health care for conditions that are caused or made worse by your military service. If you have severe injuries or disabilities you may be eligible to receive all your medical care for free from the VA, not just that care related to your injuries. You can also receive more care from the VA if you have an income below certain limits.

If you are a 50 percent or greater disabled veteran or a former POW, all your medical care from the VA is free. There are other groups that may get some, or all VA medical care for free, see our VA Copay page for details.

Medical Services Covered By The VA

The following is a general list of health care services that are provided by VA:

  • Consultation, professional counseling, training, and mental health services for the members of the immediate family or legal guardian of the veteran.
  • Outpatient medical, surgical, and mental health care, including care for substance abuse.
  • Inpatient hospital, medical, surgical, and mental health care, including care for substance abuse.
  • Prescription drugs, including over-the-counter drugs and medical and surgical supplies available under the VA national formulary system.
  • Bereavement counseling.
  • Comprehensive rehabilitative services other than vocational services.
  • Durable medical equipment and prosthetic and orthotic devices, including eyeglasses and hearing aids.
  • Home health services.
  • Preventative Care such as:
    • Immunizations
    • Periodic medical exams
    • Health Care Assessments
    • Health education, including nutrition education
    • Screening Tests
  • Respite, hospice, and palliative care.
  • Payment of travel and travel expenses for eligible veterans.
  • Pregnancy and delivery service, to the extent authorized by law.
  • Completion of forms.
  • Emergency care in VA facilities.
  • Emergency care in non-VA facilities in certain conditions: This benefit is a safety net for veterans requiring emergency care for a service connected disability or enrolled veterans who have no other means of paying a private facility emergency bill. If another health insurance provider pays all or part of a bill, VA can’t provide any reimbursement.
  • Reconstructive (plastic) surgery required as a result of a disease or trauma but not including cosmetic surgery that is not medically necessary.

How To Apply For VA Health Care

You can apply on the phone by calling  877-222-VETS (8387), Mon-Fri between 8 am and 8 pm, Eastern Time. You can also apply online by visiting the VETS.GOV website.

What Exactly Are VA Loans?

A VA mortgage loan (also known as a Veterans Administration home loan) is one of the most useful military benefits. If you qualify, you can buy or build a home, or refinance an existing home mortgage, with as little as $0 down, great rates, and financing up to $484,350 (2019 limit) – more if you live in certain high-cost areas like New York City.  Another benefit over traditional mortgages is that there is no PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance, the monthly insurance fee charged to protect the bank until you reach at least 20 percent equity).

For most service-members and veterans who qualify, a VA loan is one of their most valuable benefits and a no-brainer over other, traditional mortgage types. This section offers an in-depth explanation of the VA loan process, and instructions on how to submit an application.

VA Loan VS. Conventional Home Loans

VA loans are some of the only loans remaining that offer no down payment.  With conventional loans, the buyer is required to provide up to 20% down, which can often make it too difficult to purchase the right type of home for your family.  Since with a VA home loan there’s no private mortgage insurance this can save hundreds of dollars a month over conventional loans, depending on how much you borrow.  Because the VA loan is backed by the government, the rates are often much better than a conventional loan, which will save you a considerable amount of money over the life of your home loan.  Lastly, the VA home loan has a more lenient lending policy, allowing you to qualify for a VA loan when you might not meet all the requirements for a traditional loan.

VA Loan Basics

While VA Loans are issued by private lenders they are backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is why they can be offered oftentimes with little to no down payment and no PMI.  Since 1944, the VA has helped over 22 million military men and women purchase homes using this type of mortgage program.

VA Loan Funding Fee

Nearly every VA loan comes with a VA Funding Fee.  This fee goes directly to the Department of Veterans Affairs and helps back the VA loans of the future.  Not everyone has to pay the fee, such as military men and women with a service-related disability.  Fees range from a little over 2% for first time VA loan recipients, to 3.3% for repeat home buyers.  The good news is you can roll this fee into your loan amount.  In addition, closing costs are less and often the seller can pay these costs, too.

VA Loan Limits

As of 2019, the VA allows for no down payment on loans up to $484,350.  This does not mean that’s all a veteran can qualify for, it means that’s the limit in most cities you can secure a mortgage with no down payment.  In cities that are more expensive to live in, that number rises. For example, in New York City the maximum you can qualify for with no down payment is over $726,000.

How Much Can I Qualify for on a VA Loan?

The amount you can qualify for varies depending on a number of factors. One of the biggest factors is your debt ratio.  It helps to determine the amount you can afford to pay each month.

7 Ways to Keep Military Health Care Affordable

Revamping health care is constantly in the headlines as officials attempt to hammer out a way to make health care costs – one of the largest sources of debt and bankruptcy in the nation – more manageable for more Americans.

Free or reasonably priced health care coverage is one of the ways the American public decided to help compensate members of the military, their families, and military retirees for their service to the nation. Tricare offers a wide range of health plans for a variety of needs, and many of these plans allow for free medical care, or care at very low cost compared to the prices paid by civilians.

Nonetheless, co-payments, medications, dental and vision care can add up. Try these suggestions to help keep the cost of medical care manageable:

  1. Keep up to date with checkups. Don’t skimp on care to save a few dollars, especially if you have a health condition that requires regular monitoring. Be sure children get all necessary vaccinations, and take preventive measures such as getting a flu vaccination every year.
  2. See the right doctors. You want the best care possible, but also the best price. Whenever possible, by going to a military medical facility such as a hospital, clinic or sick bay, you’ll receive high-quality care at the lowest cost to you. If no military facility is near you, check with your health insurance plan to determine the best civilian option.
  3. Choose the right plan. Review all your options when choosing coverage under Tricare. Tricare offers several coverage levels that have different options to choose providers, etc., at different cost points. Carefully consider all your options, including what physicians you will want to see, how healthy you and your family are, and anticipated future medical needs, to determine the right level of care for you.
  4. Ask for the best deal. Talk to the manager of patient accounts about your situation. Your Tricare benefits might vary depending on your plan level and whether you or the physician’s office files your claim. For example, if you use the point-of-service option (POS) to visit a non-network, non-participating physician, they can charge you up to 15 percent more than the agreed-upon Tricare rate. If you plan to see a physician regularly, then discuss any options that can make your care more cost effective.
  5. Cut drug costs. First, seek to receive your medications from a military treatment facility, where they are free. Otherwise, ask your doctor if a generic medication will work as well as a brand-name one for you. If it is equally effective, a generic drug costs two-thirds less when ordered through Tricare’s mail-order pharmacy. If not, look into all options, including discount medications from warehouse club and discount/chain stores, to find the best deal on needed medicines.
  6. Deduct what you can. Develop a method — whether a spreadsheet, a shoebox for receipts, or a list in a notebook — to keep track of what you spend on medical care. If you spend more than 7.5 percent of your income, you could be eligible to deduct those costs from your income taxes.
  7. Save with an FSA. If your employer or your spouse’s employer offers a flexible spending account (FSA), take advantage of it. An FSA allows employees to have money deducted, pretax, from their paychecks for medical care. Look at canceled checks, bills or credit card statements to determine how much you spent on medical care (out of your own pocket, outside of health plan benefits) last year. One rule of thumb is to request withholding of about 80 percent of that amount, to be safe. Be sure you can spend the full amount you have deducted, because if you do not spend it, you lose it.

Medical care can be a challenging expense, especially when unexpected conditions arise. Fortunately, by planning as many cost savings as you can foresee, you can make a difference in the cost of care for you and your family.

Do Service Members Need Life Insurance?

Life insurance is one of the most important components of your personal financial plan. Unfortunately, life insurance is poorly understood, and breadwinners’ mistakes invariably cause great financial hardship for their survivors. The primary purpose of life insurance is to protect your survivors from the adverse financial consequences of your premature death.

If service members have no survivors, then it’s unnecessary to buy life insurance beyond the amount needed to pay for any outstanding debts or settle the estate.

If service members are married or have young children, then it’s prudent to have life insurance to insulate the family from financial disaster. service members who want to marry or have children soon should explore life insurance options.

How Much Life Insurance Do Service Members Need?

The general idea in determining life insurance needs is the estimate the family’s actual financial situation in the event of the policyholder’s death. Life insurance is not a measure of devotion to loved ones or a monument to self-importance. It is insurance in case of premature death, and it should be used to protect dependents against undue financial hardship.

If a service member is not alive to provide for his or her family, insurance coverage should be sufficient to enable them to live comfortably. service members should determine the expenses survivors would incur in the years following their death and the income they will receive. By matching income with expenses, policyholders can easily see any short-falls (there may be none) that are best covered by life insurance.

Plan for a basic monthly income for the family, plus additional needs such as education for the children, special medical care for predictable problems, and a reserve for emergencies. As life changes, some of the needs disappear. For example, if the policyholder’s children are grown and through college, there is no need to leave money for the children’s education. Thus service members need to reevaluate insurance needs periodically to make sure the survivors’ situation hasn’t changed. In any case, there is never a requirement to make the policyholder’s family wealthy upon his or her death; buy only the coverage for identifiable needs.

The first step is to estimate the monthly expenses the policyholder believes his survivors will face. If you don’t know where to start in estimating these expenses, a good rule of thumb is two-thirds of your present monthly income for those years when children will be at home, and one-half after they have left.

What Type of Policy Should You Buy?

Currently, an active duty service member may elect to take up to $250,000 of coverage for $.65 per month per $10,000 of coverage, regardless of age. This is very inexpensive insurance for older officers and noncommissioned officers. In effect, the large numbers of young service members make possible low premiums for the older service members.

For this reason, and because it is convertible after service members leave the service, SGLI should probably be the basic building block of a military family’s insurance program. However, military credit unions may offer a better policy at less cost than SGLI.

There are three main types of life insurance:

  • Variable – Has a flexible structure designed to allow greater return on the savings portion of the policy.
  • Permanent – Premiums are paid until your death but also build savings. This type of life insurance offers guaranteed premiums and guaranteed cash values. Some types offer cash value growth driven by the equity markets. While premiums are higher than you initially would pay for the comparable amount of term insurance, over time the permanent life insurance cost may be lower than term insurance.
  • Term – Lasts for a specific period; has no savings component. Term life offers the lowest initial premium expense. Over time, however, term insurance premiums can increase significantly. In the long run the cost may even surpass the cost of permanent life insurance.

Within these major categories, there are many variations that will allow you to meet your life insurance needs.

The Right Life Insurance for the Military

Confused about life insurance — whether you need it, what kind, how much and the like? So are a lot of people in the military. While the military provides you with Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage, that may not be enough for some people. To make those decisions easier, we’ve boiled it down to the basics.

Confused about life insurance — whether you need it, what kind, how much and the like? So are a lot of people in the military. While the military provides you with Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage, that may not be enough for some people. To make those decisions easier, we’ve boiled it down to the basics.

1. Is there a “war clause?”

A little known fact about life insurance policies ? some don’t pay if you die as a result of war. For members of the military, this is a significant issue. When looking for a life insurance policy, make sure that if you die as a result of combat duty, your family will receive the benefits of that policy. None of the life insurance policies at USAA contain a war clause.

2. Do you need it?

That’s the easy part. If you’re not responsible for anyone or anything, you probably don’t need life insurance. If you’re single, with no kids, and a lot of people aren’t counting on your income, you probably don’t need life insurance. Remember, the military already provides you with a maximum of $400,000 of life insurance. But if you’re married, have children, or take care of aging parents, SGLI coverage is most likely not enough. It’s probably a good idea to get additional life insurance, as well.

3. Can I get it?

Members of the military have difficult and often dangerous jobs. Some military professions, such as like fighter pilots and paratroopers, are unable to receive life insurance simply because some companies feel their line of work is too risky. A good bet is to find an insurance company that understands the military, and will provide you coverage regardless of your military career.

4. Life (insurance) after the military

Planning to separate from the military? It’s a good idea to start shopping around at least two months ahead for life insurance. Your SGLI policy won’t be valid once you leave the military. It can take up to six weeks to get a life insurance policy, so don’t cancel your SGLI until your new policy has been issued and the first premium paid.

Coverage for you

One option is to convert your SGLI to a five-year renewable term policy with Veteran’s Group Life Insurance (VGLI), which will provide up to $400,000 in coverage. If you’re in poor health, this can be a good value. But if you’re healthy, you might find a more affordable option with a commercial life insurance company.

Coverage for your spouse

Your spouse is an important part of your family’s financial security even if he or she doesn’t earn an income. Think of it this way: What would it cost to replace the childcare, meal preparation, and other household tasks your spouse does? If you had the $100,000 of coverage for your spouse under SGLI, you will not be able to convert it to VGLI once you separate from the military. The good news is: purchasing a relatively inexpensive life insurance policy can offset the expenses associated with losing a spouse.

5. How much insurance do you need?

There’s no magic formula but you can start by figuring out what you want life insurance to do for you. Do you simply want a policy to cover your funeral, debts, and unpaid medical bills? Or are you worried about providing enough college money for your children or retirement savings for your spouse if you die suddenly? Some experts say you should buy a policy that’s seven to 10 times your income. But that’s not the answer for everyone.

“Getting the right amount and type of insurance depends on your specific situation,” says Rob Schaffer, executive director of Product Management for USAA Life Insurance Co. “You need to ask yourself some key questions to decide what fits your budget and your circumstances. This is where talking to an insurance company or financial adviser can help.”

6. What kind do you need? How long do you need it?

Consider the kind of insurance you want: term or permanent life insurance. Buying term insurance is like renting a house, but the lease on the insurance policy can be used only for a specific term — 10 years, 20 years, or whatever you choose. Permanent insurance, on the other hand, generally has a higher premium than term, but lasts for a lifetime. The policy also builds cash value that you can borrow against or withdraw if you have an unexpected need for it.

Once you decide between term and permanent life insurance, you have one more step — sign up. Both types of life insurance have several options. Make sure you research the information, consult with a financial adviser, and choose carefully. But whatever you do, don’t delay. The cost goes up with age.

7. Shop around to find the right fit.

The first, and most important step, is to find the right policy for your budget and family’s needs. We make it easy to compare policies with our life insurance tool that matches you to multiple partners, so you can shop around … in one stop.

Are There Any Military Spouse Retirement Benefits?

As a military spouse, you’ve put in months of waiting on your service member to come home from long trainings or deployment, all while holding down your home and taking care of your family. You’ve battled career challenges for yourself, planning disasters, cross-country moves and everything Murphy’s Law could throw at you.

But other than the long-sought break from the challenges of military life, what’s in military retirement for you? Although your service member is who put on the uniform every day, military retirement isn’t without perks for military spouses or ways that you can still benefit from the community.

And while all of the benefits available to you are by virtue of your spouse’s service, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take full advantage of them.

Military Spouse Retirement Benefits

Health and dental care. After military retirement, you are eligible to continue using Tricare, the military’s health care system. If you are near a base, you may even still be able to be seen in the military treatment facility or hospital if that is your wish. You can also sign-up for a dental plan for military retirees.

Commissary and shopping privileges. Now that you’re not a part of the active-duty military anymore, you might find that your living expenses go up. But as the spouse of a military retiree, you still have access to the military commissary and exchange systems. Although just how much you save at those stores over civilian markets is an often-debated topic, everyone agrees there is some benefit to shopping at them.

Military lodging and recreation. As a military retiree, you still have access to the military lodging and recreation systems. Although there are some rules restricting who can stay in military lodges overseas, most allow military retirees. Maybe now is the time to take that girls’ or guys’ vacation you’ve been dreaming about for the last 10 years.

GI Bill and education benefits. If your service member transferred the Post-9/11 GI Bill to you while he or she was still on active duty, you can use it to go back to school. Through it, you will receive a monthly housing allowance, an annual books stipend and, depending on where you are going to school, all of your tuition costs and fees covered. The GI Bill must be transferred while the service member is on active duty for this to be available.

If you don’t have the GI Bill and your service member has died, you might be eligible for Survivor and Dependents Educational Assistance.

Survivor Benefit Plan. If your service member chooses to set up the Survivor Benefit Plan, an insurance policy, at the time of his retirement, you will have access to that money after he or she dies.

VA benefits after your service member’s death. Although a service member’s pension checks end with his or her death, you may have access to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and the Veteran’s Death Pension.

Military Family Deployment – How to Handle it

Preparing for military family deployment can seem like an uphill battle.

For one, your Family Readiness team (be it an officer, group or other) has probably handed you a to-do list that is several pages long.

Add in the fact that there’s the inevitable family you’re going to have to find time to see (I’m sorry, Aunt Gloria! We just can’t make it out there AND do everything we need to do!), preparations made around the house and normal family life to lead.

Forget normal life. Deployment changes everything. And it’ll start happening well before that deployment even starts. The Military Powers That Be divide deployment into three phases: pre-deployment, deployment and re-integration. This is called the Deployment Cycle and, while stress and exhaustion may be true for the cycle in full, you’ll find particular stressors in play for each cycle.

Prepare Yourself

This one could also be called “steel yourself,” because two things are universal about deployments: (1) No deployment experience is the same; but (2) It’s going to require a lot from you, no matter what.

Combat deployments come with an unshakable shadow and stress every infantry spouse can explain with a single look. But non-combat deployments can also be very stressful. The gist: Stress, no matter what.

Before your partner deploys, make sure you find several healthy stress-relievers to help get you through. They will likely be your go-to when times get rough.

Pre-Deployment Logistics

During this phase, you’ll be doing everything you can to get your family ready for the realities of deployment and the potentialities. At the top of your list will be legal, financial and emotional preparation.

Legally, you’ll want to get everything that may be necessary taken care of: powers of attorney and wills, particularly, and anything else your unit recommends.

While wills can feel morbid, powers of attorney might not seem necessary — and both may entail discussion that you or your spouse may not be eager to have. Talk to your service member about what kinds of powers of attorney you should have while he is gone. Should anything go wrong, including you losing your military ID or needing to break a lease, you won’t be able to take care of the issue without one.

Here is everything you need to know to get the legal stuff ironed out before your partner leaves.

You will need to make financial preparations too. Between hazard pay, combat pay, flight pay, or any of the other additional pays that come with deployment, plus the non-taxable income, your bank account will look drastically different for a while — and it’s important you don’t blow it all on a fancy new Mustang.

Deployment

To state the obvious: Deployment changes everything. The problem is you really don’t understand how until you’re in it, and even after you’ve done one, you can’t count on the next deployment being the same.

Learn how you can prepare for the impact it will have on your marriage and your family and prepare for the effect an unexpected extension might have.

Take the time to prepare some family rituals in advance that you can do during deployment.

Get involved with your Family Readiness Group.

You may even want to consider moving home while your spouse is gone. If that’s something you’re thinking about, make sure you weigh all the options in advance.

And then there’s the perennial military joke — deployment inevitably demands a visit from Uncle Murphy.

If you’re new to the military, you’re probably shaking your head in confusion. Who’s Uncle Murphy? If you’re not new, you already know: Murphy’s Law goes into effect the minute your spouse leaves. The car will break. The newly replaced air conditioner will suddenly need to be completely replaced again. The roof will collapse. And you will lose your keys.

Maybe none of those things will happen to you (we hope), but Murphy’s Law is there all the same — and it’s something you at least get to laugh about. The good news is this: Deployment may be a heavier time in your life, but it will definitely add in some hilarity. We promise.

In fact, even though none of us likes deployment, we all cherish the feeling of how wonderful it is to have your spouse return after such a long time away. Take the hard moments in stride. And celebrate the return with all you’ve got.

Prepare the Family

Helping your family get ready for a deployment is easier when you take the advice of other spouses who have done it.

Children going through a deployment experience many of the same emotions as their grown counterparts, but have at their fingertips fewer of the resources to combat those problems. Learn how you can help them prepare for the separation as easily as possible and, while you’re at it, learn how you can expect the rest of your family to take deployment too.

Reintegration

Your spouse is back! Hooray! The world is wonderful, your family is whole, and you are breathing for the first time in months. Congratulations! Now, welcome to (another) hard part.

Reintegration is great, but it brings with it its own challenges.

When you’ve been apart for months at a time, both of you inevitably grow and change — and reintegration is all about growing back to each other. While it happens, you can expect some ups and down. Some fights, some passion, and the road back to shared household duties.

No matter how much we wish it did, reintegration doesn’t happen immediately. But the more you prepare for it and the rest of deployment, the easier it will all be.

Military Spouse Employment 101

Military Spouse Employment Manual

Holding down a job while your spouse is in the military is easier than you might think. While the military often throws a monkey wrench into best-laid plans, your career doesn’t have to be one of them.

Military spouses have successful careers in all types of industries. Want to be a writer? A teacher? An entrepreneur? Maybe a surgical nurse? Do you dream of running an organization?

Military spouses are making a go of their dream jobs across a wide range of fields. You can too, by following these critical steps.

Step 1: Use Everyone You Know

Military spouses are primed to do one business activity better than just about anyone else: network. And networking is how you’re going to find, get and keep a job as a military spouse.

And when you PCS, it’ll be how you do it again.

Networking by any other name is just being friendly, and you do that with every move already.

Learn how to leverage those skills for a job.

First, you’ll need how to learn how to turn that stranger you’ve just met into a career connection. Then, you’ll need to learn how to move from a simple connection to something more — to actually sit down and talk or, in business parlance, “take a meeting.”

You’ll also need to figure out how to do all of this online so that you can get a head start on making connections at your new duty station before you even PCS.

For some spouses, this is easy. For others, it’s more difficult. If you’re working in a very narrow, specific field, you might find networking in your industry from inside the confines of the military community to be even harder, but we’ve even got a plan for that.

Step 2: Look for the Right Job

Many spouses tell us that they feel like they have to take jobs of “last resort.” Jobs that will hire anyone, that won’t care that they’re a military spouse, and will never ask more of them than they can do in a regular eight-hour shift. Jobs that won’t grow them. That won’t help them build a career. That won’t help them fulfill their own dreams.

You don’t have to do that.

Many spouses participate in preferential hiring programs, which can help you find a job at your installation, in a company or with the government, and get a leg up over other candidates.

Many other military spouses work remotely or launch their own businesses. Whatever path you choose, starting your career, returning to work or expanding your professional experiences all start with a very smart search. Luckily for you, there are plenty of resources for military spouses to help you find the right job.

Step 3: Use Your Resources

This one is key. Military life presents challenges at every turn. But it also throws out lots of career resources. Looking to craft your resume to best showcase your potential? Start here. Trying to write a resume even when you don’t have much experience?

For even more help, head to your local installation. All military branches have resources to help you launch your job search and get your job-hunting ducks in order. Find our rundowns for your branch here: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy.

Step 4: Take Advice from Someone Who Has Done It

No matter what you do or want to do, nothing is as helpful as listening to the advice of other military spouses who have been there, done that. By listening to their stories and experiences, you’ll be able to see how their actions can be replicated or used in your own job search.

Military Spouse and Family Benefits

The military can be a difficult lifestyle for a family, but it does come with some excellent benefits. Some of those are in the form of cash, and some are in the form of discounts. In addition to the bi-monthly paycheck, military service members receive benefits like money for housing, subsidized groceries and healthcare.

Don’t know exactly how to get your military spouse and family benefits or want to know more about what they are? Read on.

First, make sure you can access your benefits.

To receive any military benefits, military family members must be registered in the military’s personnel system, the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS), and receive a military ID card. To do that you need to be the service member’s spouse or child.

Certain other family members can also receive ID cards in some circumstances.

Military Pay

Every military service member receives at least a base pay. Most also receive a variety of allowances, special pays and bonuses depending on things like deployment, paygrade and military job. For most married service members, those allowances include Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) and Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).

Guard and Reserve pay work a little differently.

If you’re confused about what your service member is currently getting paid, you can view his or her Leave and Earnings Statement (LES). The LES can look confusing and complicated, but we’ve got a simple tutorial to walk you through it.

Military Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is given to every active-duty service member as part of their bi-weekly pay. How much you receive is usually based on where your service member is stationed. Even if you choose to live somewhere other than his duty station while he is home or deployed, you will still receive BAH based on duty station, not your residence.

In some cases, your service member may be stationed somewhere you cannot go — called a “hardship duty assignment.” If that happens, you may be able to receive BAH based on wherever you choose to live instead of where he is stationed.

BAH is meant to cover 97 percent of your housing costs, minus renters insurance. The BAH rates are recalculated every year. If the rates go down where you are living, you will be grandfathered into the older, higher rate. If the rates go up where you are living, you’ll receive the new, higher amount.

Military Shopping Benefits

Known as “non-monetary compensation,” military shopping benefits help military families save money on the things they want or need.

Most bases worldwide are home to a military commissary operated by a government organization called the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA). Commissaries can often help military families save money on grocery items, since stores are required by law to sell items at cost. Check out this commissary 101 for more information on commissary shopping.

Most bases are also home to a department store called an exchange, as well as gas stations, liquor stores and fast food. On Army and Air Force bases, all of those places are run by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). On Marine Corps bases, they are run by the Marine Corps Exchange (MEX), and on Navy bases, they are run by the Navy Exchange (NEX). All of those companies operate independently of the military but use a percentage of their revenue to fund other military family programs. Most items purchased in the exchanges are tax exempt, making those stores great places to buy big-ticket items like electronics and furniture.

Military Childcare

Most military bases have a variety of full-time or hourly daycare centers. The costs of these are based on a family’s total income, not just the service member’s paygrade. Waiting lists at these centers can be long, so the military also allows families to use subsidized in-home daycares that have been officially approved. If you don’t live near a base or there are no on-base daycare center spots available, the military will also subsidize the cost of care at certain off-base, civilian daycares that have become a part of their network.

Military Recreation Benefits

Military Welfare and Recreation (MWR) is a major part of base life — and a part of your benefits. The programs MWR funds and manages on base are often much more affordable than their off-base counterparts because the government subsidizes their costs.

MWR manages most recreation on every base, including gyms, pools, bowling alleys, horse stables, event centers, golf courses, discounted equipment rentals and more. Many bases also have available youth programs operated through MWR like dance classes, sports teams and clubs. Since most of these services are specific to each base, you should contact your local MWR office to learn what is available.

MWR operates several resorts in vacation destinations around the world. And the individual services’ MWR programs operate recreation areas stateside in places like Virginia Beach, Virginia; Fort Walton Beach, Florida; and Pacific Beach, Washington. The best way to find out what is currently available from that program is to contact your base MWR office.

Military Spouse and Family Healthcare

Active-duty military families — regardless of which branch of service their spouse serves in — receive benefits through the military’s healthcare, which is called Tricare. While Tricare is technically not an insurance company, it often operates a lot like one, helping military families receive healthcare and pay medical bills.

There are two kinds of Tricare that active-duty families, medically retired families and families of activated guardsmen and reservists can use: Tricare Select (previously known as Tricare Standard) and Tricare Prime.

If you are a non-activated guard or reserve family, you can still use Tricare under the programs designed specifically for you.

Military retiree families can also receive Tricare.

Dental insurance is provided to military families through United Concordia.