The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act – SCRA

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) gives military members a wide range of legal protections not available to the general public.

SCRA Eligibility

The SCRA covers all active duty service members, reservists and the members of the National Guard while on active duty. The protection begins on the date of entering active duty and generally terminates within 30 to 90 days after discharge.

What Does the SCRA Cover?

The SCRA can postpone or suspend financial or civil obligations to prevent you from being taken advantage of while on active duty and away from home.

Protections offered by the SCRA include:

  • Prevents your landlord from evicting you unless the rent is higher than $3,851.03 per month for 2019 (this amount changes every year)
  • Stops foreclosures without a court order
  • Your vehicle can’t be repossessed without a court order if you made a deposit, or at least one payment before you joined
  • You can’t be taken to court for civil proceedings, this includes divorce and child support hearings
  • Keeps the owner of a self-storage facility from selling your belongings for overdue rent without a court order

Benefits offered by the SCRA include:

  • Lets you terminate your telecom contracts (telephone, cable, internet etc.) if you relocate for at least 90 days to a location that doesn’t have coverage under your current provider
  • Lets you keep your current phone number even if you cancel your service due to a relocation that lasts less than 3 years
  • Lets you end a vehicle lease you signed before joining if you are mobilized, PCS OCONUS, or deploy OCONUS for at least 180 days
  • Lets you end a housing lease without penalty if you deploy for 90 days or more
  • Lets a surviving spouse terminate a lease if their partner dies on active duty
  • Lets a military spouse claim either their home of record, the service member’s state of legal residence, or the state they are living in for tax purposes
  • Limits interest on all loans taken out before joining the military to 6 percent. This includes auto loans, mortgages, student loans, credit cards, etc.
  • Also, it says that if you use any of your SCRA rights and delay payments it won’t reflect on your credit report

The SCRA also gives you other rights regarding property taxes, federal taxes, life insurance, and other financial or legal penalties or proceedings. Check with your unit legal officer for specifics.

8 Keys to Understanding VA Loan Occupancy Rules

Most veterans say that some of the more confusing aspects of qualifying for a VA home loan are the occupancy requirements. This usually stems from when a service member gets their PCS orders and has to move. Will they be able to rent the house? Will they be able to get a second VA loan at their new location? Are there penalties or fines for not meeting this requirement?

While it can seem daunting, understanding the occupancy requirements of a VA loan is actually quite simple if you break it down.

  1. Primary residence requirements

You must certify that you intend to occupy the property as your home. Second homes and investment properties do not qualify for a VA loan.

  1. Spouse occupancy

The occupancy requirement is satisfied if your spouse will be living in the home while you are on active duty or otherwise unable to personally occupy the home. A spouse may also satisfy the occupancy requirement if the veteran cannot due to long distance employment issues.

  1. Dependent occupancy

A dependent child may occupy the home while their parent or parents are deployed or on active duty away from the home. It’s important to note that just by having the dependent in the home does not satisfy the requirement. You must take additional action by having your attorney or dependent’s legal guardian make the occupancy certification. Please keep in mind that many lenders will not recognize dependent occupancy as satisfying the VA loan occupancy requirement.

  1. Deployed active duty service members

If you are deployed after purchasing your home, your occupancy status is not affected by the deployment. You are considered to be in a “temporary duty status” and are able to provide a valid intent to occupy certification. This requirement is met regardless of whether or not your spouse will be occupying the property while you’re deployed.

  1. Retirement occupancy

If you will be retiring within 12 months from the date of your loan application, you must include a copy of your application for retirement and proof of requirement stability. Although the VA requires moving into the home within a “reasonable time,” retiring veterans may be able to negotiate a later move-in date. You have the option to apply for a delay (up to 12 months) in the occupancy requirements.

  1. Delayed occupancy

Typically, a delayed occupancy results from property repairs or home improvements. If extensive changes are being made to the property that prevent you from occupying it while the work is being completed, your occupancy requirements will be considered “delayed.” However, you must certify that you intend to occupy the property as soon as the work is completed.

  1. What is “reasonable time”?

VA loan occupancy requires that the veteran move into the home within a “reasonable time.” But what does that mean? The VA requires that the borrower move into the home within 60 days after the VA loan closes.

As you’ve read, there are exceptions to that rule. The 60-day rule may be waived if you meet both of the following conditions:

  • You certify that you will occupy the property at a specific date after your VA loan closes
  • There is a specific event in the future that will make it possible for you to occupy the property on that date

Generally, the VA does not make exceptions if you want to set an occupancy date for more than 12 months after your loan closes.

  1. Failure to meet requirements

If you do not occupy the home as agreed under the terms of your VA loan, what happens next is at the discretion of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Even though it seems as if there are a lot of “if, then” rules to define occupancy, it’s really not as complicated as it appears. The VA works hard to help borrowers understand how to fit their situation into these guidelines and help set you up for success. Understanding your rights and benefits is something that a qualified Home Loan Expert is more than willing to help you with. Remember to always work with a lender who is skilled and specialized in the nuances of VA loans.

Ready to Occupy a New Home?

If you think you’ll meet the occupancy requirements, the first step in the VA loan process is to shop around for a lender. We make the process easy by matching you with up to five lenders for rate quotes – no obligations or credit checks required.

VA Accepting Applications for New STEM GI Bill Soon

If your GI Bill is about to run out or is already gone, you are enrolled in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) program, or you have a STEM degree and are trying to get a teaching certification, you may want to investigate a new GI Bill program coming this fall.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will begin accepting applications for the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship program, also known as the Rogers Scholarship, on Aug. 1. This program offers up to nine additional months of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits on top of those currently available for an additional maximum payout of $30,000.

You must be enrolled in a program for or have earned a degree in one of the following areas:

  • Agriculture science or natural resources science program
  • Biological or biomedical science
  • Computer and information science and support services
  • Engineering, engineering technologies, or an engineering-related field
  • Health care or related program
  • Mathematics or statistics
  • Medical residency
  • Physical science
  • Science technologies or technicians

Priority will be given to those whose GI Bill has run out and need the most credit hours to complete their degree or obtain their teaching certification. Dependents using a transferred GI Bill aren’t eligible for this program, but those receiving benefits under the Fry Scholarship program are.

You need to have completed at least 60 semester or 90 quarter hours towards your degree. And if your GI bill has not run out already, it must run out within 180 days for you to be eligible.

Also, the Yellow Ribbon Program is not applicable with this program.

Edith Nourse Rogers was a Congresswoman from Massachusetts who wrote and co-sponsored the original GI Bill legislation in 1944. She also was instrumental in the formation of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) in 1943.

The Rogers Scholarship was created as a part of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, also known as the “Forever GI Bill.”

Troops to Teachers Scholarships

Troops to Teachers (TTT) was established in 1994 as a Department of Defense program. The National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2000 transferred the responsibility for program oversight and funding to the U.S. Department of Education but continued operation by the Department of Defense. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 provided for the continuation of the TTT Program. The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2013 transferred the responsibility for the program oversight and funding back to the U.S. Department of Defense. TTT is managed by the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES), Pensacola, Florida.

The TTT mission is to:

  1. Assist transitioning Service members to become employed as teachers.
  2. Assist our Nation’s youth by providing good role models.
  3. Assist schools by providing teachers in critical subjects (math, science, special education, foreign language, and career-technical) for needy schools.

Current Status Funding for the program is appropriated annually. Military personnel interested in a second career in Kindergarten through High School in public, charter or Bureau of Indian Affairs schools may submit a registration form at any time. TTT registration can be accessed through ProudToServeAgain.com.

Program Function  To meet our objective of assisting eligible military personnel to transition to a new career as public school teachers, a network of State TTT Offices has been established to provide participants with counseling and assistance regarding certification requirements, routes to state certification, and employment leads. The TTT homepage provides information and resource links, including links to state Departments of Education, state certification offices, and other job listing sites in public education.

For participants that meet certain criteria as defined by the legislation, financial assistance may be provided (upon availability of funds) to eligible participants to assist with their transition to the classroom. The purpose of the financial assistance is to provide transition assistance for those becoming first-time teachers and, therefore, is not available to those that became teachers prior to registration with TTT. Click here to register with TTT.

Eligibility All current and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces whose last period of service is characterized as honorable with an interest in instructional or non-instruction pre-K through high school employment may participate in the program for counseling and referral services. Those who meet certain criteria as defined by the legislation may also be eligible to apply for TTT financial assistance to assist with their transition to the classroom.

Survivors & Dependents Educational Assistance (DEA)

The Survivor’s and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program provides education and training opportunities to eligible dependents of certain veterans. The program offers up to 45 months of education benefits.

If you first enroll in classes on or after August 1, 2018 you are entitled to a maximum of 36 months of benefits.

These benefits may be used for degree and certificate programs, apprenticeship, and on-the-job training. If you are a spouse, you may take a correspondence course.

Eligibility for Dependents Education Assistance

To be eligible, you must be the son, daughter, or spouse of:

  • A veteran who died or is permanently and totally disabled as the result of a service-connected disability.
  • A veteran who died from any cause while they had a VA recognized service-connected disability.
  • A service member missing in action or captured in line of duty.
  • A service member whom VA determines has a service-connected permanent and total disability and at the time of determination is a member of the Armed Forces who is hospitalized or receiving outpatient medical care, services, or treatment; and is likely to be discharged or released from service for this service-connected disability.

DEA Rules for Children

Children must be between the ages of 18 – 26 to get this benefit. In certain cases, it is possible to begin before age 18 and to continue after age 26. Getting married doesn’t end your eligibility.

You can’t get this benefit while on active duty. VA can extend your period of eligibility by the number of months and days equal to the time spent on active duty. This extension cannot go past your 31st birthday.

Remedial, deficiency, and refresher courses may be approved under certain circumstances.

DEA Rules for Spouses

If you are a spouse, benefits end 10 years from the date VA finds you eligible or from the date of death of the veteran. However, if you are a surviving spouse of a service member who died on active duty, your benefits end 20 years from the date of death. If you divorce the veteran your benefits end on the date of divorce. If you remarry before age 57 your eligibility ends on the date of remarriage.

DEA Rates

2018-2019 DEA Payment Rates – these rates are effective October 1, 2018
Type of Training Full Time 3/4 Time 1/2 Time <1/2 but >1/4 Time 1/4 Time
Institutional $1,224 $967 $710 $710 $306

 

Apprenticeship/On-The-Job Training Rates
First six month period $760/month
Second six month period $571/month
Third six month period $375/month
Remainder of program $191/month

Here’s How Harvey Is Impacting Military, Veteran Benefits

With America’s fourth-largest city under water, up to 13 million people impacted across Texas and Louisiana and at least 15 deaths, Hurricane Harvey is wreaking havoc across the southern U.S.

While the Texas National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard have joined local, state and federal agencies in responding to what could be the worst natural disaster to ever strike Texas, the Veterans Affairs Department has also issued notices for a handful of benefits.

If you’re a military family member, retiree or veteran in the impacted areas, several military and VA benefits have been temporarily changed in response to the ongoing crisis.

Here’s a rundown:

Tricare

During natural disasters, Tricare regularly puts in place a “state of emergency” in impacted areas.

Tricare users in all counties in Louisiana and some counties in Texas can access emergency prescriptions refills at any Tricare network pharmacy.

Those counties are: Aransas, Atascosa, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Bexar, Brazoria, Brazos, Burleson, Caldwell, Calhoun, Cameron, Chambers, Colorado, Comal, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kerr, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Live Oak, Madison, Matagorda, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Polk, Refugio, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Tyler, Victoria, Waller, Walker, Washington, Wharton, Wilson and Willacy.

Specialty care referral requirements have also been waived for all Tricare users in some counties in Texas.

To be seen by a medical provider, beneficiaries simply need to make an appointment with a provider wherever they are. Those Texas counties are: Aransas, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Brazos, Burleson, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, Brazoria, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Grimes, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Live Oak, Madison, Matagorda, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Polk, Refugio, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Tyler, Victoria, Waller, Walker, Washington, Wharton and Wilson.

The situation is constantly changing so check the Tricare website for up-to-date details.

GI Bill

Typically, Post-9/11 GI Bill housing allowance payments require that you are in school continuously. When school breaks or classes are out, the housing payment is prorated to reflect that change.

Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that most people using the GI Bill at a school that has been temporarily closed due to the hurricane will still receive housing allowance payments as if nothing had happened.

 

VA Hospitals, Clinics

Across impacted areas in Texas, some community health and outpatient Department of Veterans Affairs clinics are closed as a result of the storm. The Houston VA Medical Center, however, is open and fully operational, officials posted on that facility’s website.

A series of mobile vet centers to provide counseling services were being deployed to impacted areas, such as Corpus Christi, or have been placed on standby, according to VA officials. Within the area impacted by Harvey are over 510,000 veterans and 115 VA clinics, they said.

Purple Heart Recipients Can Save Thousands on VA Loan Fees

If you are in the market for a home loan and have been awarded a Purple Heart you may be able to save thousands of dollars on your loan thanks to a new law that takes effect early next year.

Purple Heart recipients will be exempt from the funding fee that the Department of Veterans Affairs charges on their guaranteed home loans starting Jan. 1, 2020.

The funding fee can range from 1.25% to 2.4% of the loan value for first-time homebuyers. According to Zillow.com, the average home value in the U.S. is around $227,000. That means that if you are a Purple Heart recipient you could possibly be exempt from paying a funding fee of over $5,000 when you get a VA home loan.

Disabled veterans have been exempt from paying the funding fee since 1982, but language hidden deep in Public Law 116-23, known as the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, also makes active duty Purple Heart recipients exempt from paying the fee.

That means those who have Purple Hearts but are currently on active duty and, therefore, do not yet have a VA disability rating can now access the exemption. The law was signed by President Donald Trump June 27, 2019.

Much of the new law addresses the expansion of VA disability benefits for Agent Orange exposure to those who served in ships off the coast of Vietnam during the war. Previously, only those who served in-country or on inland waters were eligible for disability benefits. The law also directs VA to use the proceeds received from the funding fee to pay for these expanded benefits. In the past the funding fee was used only to cover administrative costs related to the VA’s home loan program.

Starting next year, to receive the exemption you must provide proof of your Purple Heart award to the lender and the VA before the loan closing date.

Should You Go to College After the Military? Here’s How to Decide

Those leaving the military have several choices. For many, the Post-9/11 GI Bill makes heading back to school a very attractive choice. But even if college sounds good, you might still be struggling to make the decision. How do you choose what to do? How do you know what school to attend?

It’s important to take some time to consider your options, gather information, conduct a self-assessment, think through possible outcomes and assess risks and rewards. Making education choices requires some soul searching and honest conversations with people in your life who care about you.

Don’t know where to start? Consider the following as you work through the decision-making process:

How We Choose

Decision-making is a skill, not an ability, and it’s important to learn how to look objectively at the pros and cons to make sound choices. Knowing who you are and what you want to accomplish in life is extremely valuable as you decide if college is a right choice for you.

Values

Most of the decisions we make are expressions of the values we hold. Identify for yourself and articulate clearly what really matters to you. Make a personal list of what values matter most to you. Narrow down your list with people you trust to four to six core personal values.

The Logical Next Step

Why not do something else? College is a serious investment of time and effort. It’s often a time of financial scarcity, despite robust VA benefits. A good exercise is to list your professional and personal goals. Leaning on people you trust, narrow down your list to four to six meaningful goals.

Options and Opportunities

Thanks to the post-9/11 GI Bill, the option to go to college doesn’t go away. While going right after exiting service is the right answer for many veterans — but it is not the only choice. Rather than go too soon, reflect on your list of core values and professional/personal goals. What paths might you take to achieve them? Is college the only way? Is another path more realistic?

Talking it Through

Connect with people who really know you, have your best interests at heart and have valuable insights into the decision you’re trying to make. Just like in the military, rely on those you trust and who you know have your back and then look at that group objectively. Determine if you need to add to it to find additional guidance.

Making a Choice

Considering your unique circumstances, motives and goals, and having listened to and learned from others, you’re now ready to make your decision. It should align with the reality of who you are, what you care about and what you want to achieve. If the factors you used in making your decision change, then it’s perfectly fine for your decision to change, too. Finally, give your decision one final check to make sure you’re ready to move forward.

Higher education can be something that changes the direction of your life, providing opportunities you might not have had with no degree. Particularly for veterans, using your benefits to get a degree can help you build on the skills you learned in the military and create a new post-military career for yourself.

You may not have all the answers yet, but if you decide to go to college, you have concrete goals you want to achieve and a clear sense of how a college degree will impact your life, you will get the most out of college.

Help for Military Spouses Going Back to School

A college degree may lead to better job opportunities and better pay. In fact, earning a bachelor’s or graduate degree increases one’s average hourly wage compared to those with only a high school diploma, according to a Rand Corp. survey.

However, going back to school for military spouses is a sizable time commitment and an expensive financial obligation. What’s more, constant relocation may cause a spouse to lose credits if he or she transfers to another college. But there are financial and credit-transfer programs available to spouses to help spouses get an education.

Here are a few programs that offer financial assistance:

  • The General George S. Brown Spouse Tuition Assistance Program (STAP) offers partial tuition assistance (50 percent of course tuition with a maximum of $1,500 per academic year) to spouses of active-duty Air Force members stationed overseas.
  • The General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program provides $1,500 in grants to selected children of active duty Air Force members and spouses stationed overseas through the Air Force Aid Society. To qualify, the spouse must be a full- or part-time student studying for a vocational certificate, undergraduate degree or graduate degree. The funds granted range from $1,500 a year for an undergraduate degree to $1,750 a year for a graduate degree.
  • The Coast Guard Mutual Assistance program (CGMA) offers a supplemental education grant of $150 per year. This grant is applicable to any family member’s educational expenses. However, CGMA does not cover tuition expenses.

These programs assist with transferring class credits:

  • The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOCAD) program is a consortium of more than 1,500 colleges and universities that offer associate and bachelor’s degree in the United States. This program transfers credits between the colleges allowing the student to continue with his or her education and not retake any classes. SOCAD is ideal for military spouses who might have to relocate several times.
  • The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges for the navy (SOCNAV) is similar to the SOCAD, but offers associate and bachelor’s degree programs on or accessible to Navy installations.

Each program varies from service to service but all provide the proper resources to help military family members obtain a high level of education.

How to Apply for a Veteran Benefits ID Card

We have been asked this over and over again and it seems like there is a lot of confusion going on about this topic, so we decided to put together a little guide on where and how to get your ID Card.

Basically, there are two different ways to apply for this ID – you can either go to your local benefits VA office or apply online.

Please note that all the information below is taken directly from federal homepages and only changed minimally to sum up/clarify things.

Also, this type of ID is a benefits only ID – not to be confused with your Veteran Health Identification card.

Eligibility

You may be eligible if you meet both of the requirements listed below.

Both of these must be true. You:

  • Served on active duty, in the Reserves, or in the National Guard (including the Coast Guard), and
  • Received an honorable or general discharge (under honorable conditions)

If you received an other than honorable, bad conduct, or dishonorable character of discharge, you’re not eligible for a Veteran ID Card. If you have an uncharacterized or unknown discharge status, VA will have to verify your eligibility before we approve your application.

You’ll need to provide a copy of your discharge papers when you apply for a VIC to prove your character of discharge.

How to apply online

You can apply online here.

What do I need to apply for a Veteran ID Card online?

When you apply, be sure to have these on hand:

  • Your Social Security number
  • A digital copy of your DD214, DD256, DD257, or NGB22 that you can upload. This could be in a .pdf, .jpeg, or .png file format.
  • A copy of a current and valid government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, passport, or state-issued identification card.

You’ll also need a digital color photo of yourself from the shoulders up. The photo should follow all these standards:

  • Show a full front view of your face and neck (with no hat, head covering, or headphones covering or casting shadows on your hairline or face), and
  • Be cropped from your shoulders up (much like a passport photo), and
  • Show you with your eyes open and a neutral expression, and
  • Be taken in clothing you’d wear for a driver’s license photo, and
  • Be a square size and have a white or plain-color background (with no scenery or other people in the photo), and
  • Show what you look like now (a photo taken sometime in the last 10 years), and
  • Be uploaded as a .jpeg, .png, .bmp, or .tiff file

 

What happens after I apply for a Veteran ID Card?

Once you’ve submitted your VIC application, VA will check your eligibility and verify that:

  • Your character of discharge meets eligibility requirements, and
  • The ID you submitted (driver’s license or passport) is valid, and
  • The image you’ve chosen to appear on the card meets the photo requirements

After they’ve verified your eligibility, they’ll send you an email letting you know the status of your application. If you have an unknown or uncharacterized discharge status, your application will take more time to process while we verify your eligibility. (They might need to request your records from the National Personnel Records Center.)

If you receive an email from them asking for additional information or evidence to process your application, you’ll need to sign in to AccessVA and update your application with the information they ask for.

Important note: Do NOT send personal information via email!

How to apply with a local office

Simply go to your nearest Veterans Benefits Administration office and ask them to help you with getting an ID – you can bring the documentation needed for applying online with you to speed up the process.

Important note: Make sure to go to a Benefits office and NOT a healthcare only office as they won’t be able to help you with an ID unless you’re there for treatment or other healthcare related matters!

You can find where all the Benefits offices are located here.

Just click on your state and look for the ‘Regional Benefit Office’.