How the Whole VA Loan Process Works

For many borrowers, applying for any kind of mortgage may seem daunting. But, when broken down, this rundown of 6 steps to getting a VA loan is easy to understand.

1. Select a VA-approved Lender

On the surface, it might appear that any lender will do. However, if you dig a little deeper, you may discover that not all lenders are the same. First, only lenders approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can originate VA mortgages. Secondly, some lenders focus primarily on conventional loans, while others concentrate almost exclusively on the VA loan program for military clients. Using a VA specialty lender with extensive knowledge about the VA loan process vs. a lender who only funds a few VA mortgages a year may translate into an easier and quicker loan process.

2. Obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE)

An experienced lender can help you obtain what’s called a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). The COE will prove that you meet initial eligibility standards for VA loan benefits. It will also let the lender know how much entitlement you can receive, which is the amount the Department of Veterans Affairs will guarantee on your VA loan. To get your COE, you’ll need to give your lender a bit of information about your military service. Usually, a COE can be acquired online instantly through a lender’s portal or through the eBenefits portal on the va.gov website. Those servicemembers or surviving spouses whose COEs cannot be obtained online will have to get theirs by mail. A VA lender or the VA can help direct you to the right resource for your specific situation.

3. Go House Hunting and Sign a Purchase Agreement

The fourth step is usually one borrowers enjoy because they get to look at homes they might consider buying. Working with a real estate professional who specializes in the VA process can help you get the most out of your benefits. This is true because the VA allows certain fees and costs to be paid by the seller (if both you and the seller agree), and a knowledgeable agent will know this and help you negotiate seller-paid fees. Once you’ve got a signed purchase agreement, you can move forward in the VA loan process.

4. Pre-Qualify for Your Loan Amount (optional)

Pre-qualifying is important, but not required. By choosing to complete this step you can save some time and potential surprises later in the process. To pre-qualify for your loan amount, you’ll have a candid conversation with your VA loan professional about your income, credit history, employment, marital status and other factors. Giving your lender complete details during the pre-qualifying step can help prevent surprises later during underwriting.  The pre-qualifying step can also reveal areas that need improvement before you can be approved, such as credit or debt-to-income ratio.  While a prequalification letter gives you a ballpark price range for house hunting, it does not guarantee that you will be approved for a loan, and your lender will later have to verify the information you provide. To get a loan requires later final approval by underwriting once all documents have been received and reviewed (see Step 5).

5. Lender Processes Application and Orders VA Appraisal

A signed purchase contract is the document you’ll need to finish your initial application. Once your lender has the contract, they will order the VA appraisal. Here again, not just any appraiser will do. Only a professional who is certified to perform appraisals to VA standards can evaluate the home being considered for VA financing. The VA appraiser will make sure the price you’ve agreed to pay for the home corresponds with the current value. Another very important part of the VA appraisal is to inspect the home to make sure it meets the VA minimum property requirements (VA MPRs). However, the VA appraisal does not take the place of a home inspection, which focuses on code violations, defects and the condition of the property. While many borrowers have heard horror stories about the length of the VA appraisal process, the Department of Veterans Affairs gives the appraisers 10 days from order to completion barring extenuating circumstances. While you’re waiting for appraisal documents, you’ll be busy submitting documents of your own to your VA-approved lender to show you have the ability to qualify for the loan. If the home passes appraisal for value and VA minimum property requirements, and it’s verified by the lender that you qualify for your loan, the underwriter will give his or her stamp of approval.

6. Close on Your Loan and Move In

After being approved by the underwriter, all that is left to do is close and move in. During closing, the property legally transfers from the former owner to you. Closing is a step that requires you to sign documents that confirm you understand and agree to the terms of the loan. You will need to provide proof of homeowners insurance and, if required, pay closing costs. Once you’ve signed all your closing documents, you’ll get the keys to your new home.

While these steps may not happen in the order above or be a required part (such as prequalification)*, they represent the typical process for the applicant in obtaining a VA purchase loan. Your lender may need to take other steps.

VA Loans: Understanding 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. 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:

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

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

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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 in to 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

VA & Non-VA: Veteran Burial Benefits

There are a variety of veteran burial benefits provided by VA and non-VA sources. Claiming VA death benefits (including burial benefits) is never an easy thing to do, but early planning is the key to making sure a loved one’s final wishes are honored just as much as military service.

Many veterans want to be buried with honors in state or national veterans cemeteries; planning ahead helps make sure those honors are available when the time comes. Remember, loved ones have VA and non-VA options for veteran burial benefits so it’s important to know all the available options before deciding.

There are state burial benefits for veterans offered from most state governments, and state-run veterans cemeteries are an option to consider if a VA national cemetery is too far away. While you cannot draw VA benefits AND state benefits for burial at the same time, knowing your options is important when it comes time to make an informed choice.

VA Burial Benefits

In 2014 the Department of Veterans Affairs streamlined its burial benefits program to speed payments and help to families in need.

Those VA changes allow payment of burial benefits without requiring a written application. According to the VA official site, the “most eligible surviving spouses” will get “basic monetary burial benefits at the maximum amount authorized in law” thanks to automated processing.

The VA pays a flat rate for burial and plot or interment that includes a payment for non-service-connected death ($300 at the time of this writing and subject to change). A service-connected death qualifies for a burial benefit of $2,000 (at the time of this writing and subject to change).

Other VA Payment Considerations

The VA official site has several additional considerations depending on circumstances:

  • For deaths on or after April 1, 1988 (but before October 1, 2011) VA will pay $300 toward burial and funeral expenses (for Veterans hospitalized by VA at the time of death).
  • For non-service-related deaths on or after December 1, 2001 (but prior to October 1, 2011) $300 is offered toward burial and funeral expenses in addition to a $300 plot allowance or interment allowance.
  • For deaths on or after December 1, 2001, but before October 1, 2011, VA offers up to $300 toward burial and funeral expenses and a $300 plot allowance or interment allowance.
  • The VA provides a yearly revision for burial / plot allowances for deaths occurring after October 1, 2011 which began in fiscal year 2013 based on the Consumer Price Index for the preceding 12-month period.
  • For deaths on or after April 1, 1988 (but before October 1, 2011) $300 is offered toward burial and funeral expenses for Veterans hospitalized by the Department of Veterans Affairs at the time of death.

Who Is Eligible To Receive the VA Veteran Burial Benefit

VA benefit guidelines require the recipient of VA burial benefits to meet a specific set of criteria including but not limited to the following:

    • The Veteran has any discharge other than Dishonorable.
    • The applicant was financially responsible for the veteran’s funeral, and have not been reimbursed by another source.
    • The Veteran died because of a service-related disability, OR
    • The Veteran was receiving, or entitled to receive, VA pension or compensation at the time of death, OR
    • The Veteran died while hospitalized by VA, or while receiving care under VA contract at a non-VA facility, OR
    • The Veteran died while traveling to or from care at VA expense to or from a specified place for the purpose of examination, treatment, or care, OR
    • The Veteran had an original or reopened claim pending at the time of death and was entitled to compensation or pension prior to the date or death, OR
    • The Veteran died on or after October 9, 1996, while a patient at a VA-approved state nursing home.

Other VA Burial Benefits

VA-provided burial benefits may also include headstones or markers, military funeral honors, and burial in a VA National Cemetery.

The VA advises there are situations which may require you to contact the VA national cemetery for assistance including scheduling burial honors for those who were on active duty at the time of death, and the following:

  • Information pertaining to hours, services, and benefits unique to a particular cemetery
  • Request for disinterment
  • Interment cancellation
  • Interment rescheduling
  • Updates in information initially sent to the Scheduling Office
  • Request for a relocation to another national cemetery

VA burial benefits do not include managing burial services at non-VA facilities including state cemeteries.

How To Apply For The VA Burial Benefit

There are several ways to apply for the VA burial benefit. You can apply online at Vets.gov, you can fill out and mail in a paper application which must consist of VA Form 21P-530, Application for Burial Allowance which must be sent by U.S. postal mail to the VA Pension Management Center in your state.

You can also visit a regional VA benefit office, or get the help of an accredited Veterans Service Officer at an agency such as the DAV, VFW, state veterans’ affairs offices, etc.

In most cases, starting your planning early is the best approach, but know that you may not be able to reserve an actual plot or similar physical space until the time of need; most pre-need planning has to do with making the right preparations rather than reserving the physical internment space itself.

VA Documentation Requirements For The VA Burial Benefit

VA benefit rules state that proof of death is required to claim the VA burial benefit, and all applicants for this benefit will need to submit bills and receipts showing that the applicant was financially responsible for burial.

This will include the need for a statement from the funeral home or other service provider that shows the following information:

  • The name of the deceased Veteran
  • The nature and cost of the funeral or memorial services
  • Nature and cost of any merchandise purchased
  • The amount of any credits offered to the payer
  • The amount of any remaining unpaid balance for services, merchandise, etc

Time Limits For Applying For VA Burial Benefits

Time restrictions depend on whether the veteran had a death identified by the VA as service-connected or not. For non-service connected VA burial benefits, there is a two year time limit to apply following the veteran’s burial or cremation.

Those who were not eligible for VA burial benefits due to a veteran’s dishonorable discharge but later had the discharge upgraded by a military discharge review board have two years from the updated discharge to apply.

For service-connected deaths, there is no time restriction or deadline to apply for a burial plot, interment allowance, or other VA burial benefits.

When VA Will Not Pay Burial Benefits

No VA burial benefit is available in cases where the service member died on active duty, was serving in Congress at the time of death, or was a federal prisoner at the time of death.

Non-VA Burial Benefits

Burial benefits are not exclusive to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Most states have a state veterans cemetery that may provide similar benefits to qualifying families.

Each state has different requirements for interment; some may require state residency for a minimum number of years, there may be varying discharge requirements, and spouses may or may not be able to get burial benefits in addition to the service member depending on circumstances.

State veteran burial benefits often include military honors, a burial flag, and a memorial certificate depending on the state.

Veterans Burial Benefits at a Private Cemetery

Burial benefits when a veteran’s family chooses the loved one to be buried in a private cemetery may include a government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and other assistance. VA benefits are not available for spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery.

The scale and scope of state veteran burial benefits will vary depending on the state, the facility, and other variables.

When you are engaged in pre-need planning with a state-run veteran cemetery or a private cemetery, be sure to ask 12 important questions about veteran burial benefits including free gravesites for veterans and related issues:

  1. Does the facility or the state require a vault or grave liner? Who pays for the liner?
  2. For private cemeteries, does a “free gravesite for veterans” require any additional purchase requirements of any kind including the purchase of a second gravesite for another loved one?
  3. For state cemeteries, will veterans with any discharge (other than dishonorable) get burial benefits or is the cemetery restricted to those with Honorable discharges only?
  4. How far in advance should pre-need appointments be made?
  5. How soon can arrangements be made once the veteran has passed away?
  6. For private cemeteries, what is the cost of having a spouse interred next to the veteran?
  7. If an additional gravesite is required, where is the site and how much is the fee?
  8. Check on any local restrictions on the headstone or marker on the grave?
  9. Is there an additional cost for the placement and maintenance of a free government headstone/grave marker?
  10. It is best to make pre-need arrangements in advance, but pre-need discussions usually do not include the physical reservation of a plot or place of interment. Is this true of the cemetery you’ve selected?
  11. Is there a comparison available between state veteran burial benefits offered in your state and the VA equivalent?
  12. Are there any residency requirements for veteran burial benefits at a private cemetery?

Information For Those Who Wish To Be Buried Overseas

The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) is a U.S. government agency responsible for 24 overseas military cemeteries. However, most of these honor servicemembers serving in World War One and World War Two.

You can search the ABMC database for those honored in these cemeteries, but the ABMC official site does not list ongoing programs or services for those who wish to be buried overseas in such facilities.

New Rules for VA Loan Limits

The VA home loan benefit is one that most consumers would be thrilled to have; a mortgage loan with no down payment, no VA-required mortgage insurance, and the lower interest rates commonly associated with government-backed home loan programs.

The VA loan program has weathered many difficult times including the housing crisis of 2008, for much of the agency’s existence, the fundamentals of the VA mortgage program have not seen dramatic changes.

VA loan program rules are often adjusted or modified by legislation, changes to the program itself, and to accommodate changes in the industry.

Of the most significant changes to the program, some of the biggest come not as a result of legislation directly aimed at helping veteran mortgage loan applicants, but as a consequence of legislation addressing a need among Vietnam-era service members. One of those was the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019.

VA Loan Program Changes: A Summary

The “Blue Water Act” makes some important changes to the VA home loan program. Some of them are alterations to help pay for some of the measures required by the act, others are procedural changes, while still others are fundamental alterations to the basic structure of VA loans. The changes include:

    • Purple Heart recipients are now exempt from paying the VA loan funding fee the same as those who receive or are entitled to receive VA compensation.
    • No upper loan limit on VA mortgages as of 1 January 2020.
    • An increase in the VA Loan Funding Fee for all non-exempt borrowers.

Agent Orange And “Herbicide Exposure”

The need for the legislation arises from large numbers of claims associated with Agent Orange or other herbicides that may have been used during the Vietnam War.

Agent Orange was used during the conflict as a means to destroy crops, forest cover, and expose North Vietnamese troops (also known as the NVA or North Vietnamese Army) to American forces and those of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).

Agent Orange, and likely other herbicides in use at the time in-theatre, contained a chemical known as dioxin which is known for causing birth defects, cancer, neurological, and even psychological problems.

To give you an idea of how wide-ranging the use of Agent Orange and dioxin was at this time, History.com reports more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed on portions of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos for a full decade between 1961 and 1971.

The use of Agent Orange created medical and psychological issues for a high volume of cases on both sides of the Vietnam conflict.

What Is The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019?

This legislation, signed into law in 2019 and effective starting in January of 2020, created relief for veterans with medical conditions presumed to have been caused by Agent Orange or “herbicide exposure” during service in Vietnam.

Specifically, “…a veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975, shall be considered to have been incurred in or aggravated by such service, notwithstanding that there is no record of evidence of such disease during the period of such service.”

This means that a veteran who files a VA medical claim “on or after” September 25, 1985, and before January 1, 2020, for a disease (covered by the legislation) and the claim “was denied by reason of the claim not establishing that the disease was incurred or aggravated by the service of the veteran” may be entitled to VA compensation for that claim.

This is true unless “there is affirmative evidence to establish that the veteran was not exposed to any such agent during that service.”

In short, those who served in Vietnam filing certain types of VA medical claims are presumed to have had exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides and would have those claims approved for financial compensation from the VA.

How The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 Affects Your VA Home Loan Benefit

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act is also known as House Resolution 299 and addresses a variety of Vietnam-era, Korean War-era, and Gulf War-era issues associated with VA medical claims. But the law also includes other items in the bill including a removal of VA loan limits for approved transactions, and an increase in the VA Loan Funding Fee.

Removal Of The VA Loan Guaranty Limit – No VA Loan Limits!

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act Act amends existing VA program guidelines with changes designed to “expand maximum guaranty amounts for purchase, construction, and cash-out refinance loans greater than the Freddie Mac conforming loan limit”.

That means that if you apply for a home loan using your VA loan benefits, you can apply for a loan for the most expensive home you can find (assuming you have full VA home loan entitlement) and the VA guaranty of the loan is 25% of the loan amount with no down payment.

Essentially, there is no upper limit on the price of the home you wish to purchase using a VA loan as of the law’s implementation date of 1 January 2020. However, if the asking price and the appraised value of the home do not agree, the VA loan amount will be based on the lower of the two amounts.

The borrower cannot be required to proceed with the loan in such cases because when the VA loan amount is lower than the asking price, the borrower must pay the difference in cash and cannot finance that amount. That’s something a borrower may choose to do, but VA loan rules prohibit forcing the borrower to buy the home and pay that difference out of pocket.

VA borrowers who wish to use their entitlement to apply for home loans “equal to or less than $144,000 regardless of Freddie Mac” are not affected by the rule changes and should expect their transaction to be handled in the traditional way.

Loan limits still apply for those who have more than one active VA loan, only partial entitlement available or those who have defaulted on a previous loan.

The Purple Heart Exemption For The VA Loan Funding Fee

The VA Loan Funding Fee is an expense associated with VA mortgages which most veterans must pay unless they receive or are eligible to receive VA compensation for service-connected medical issues.

Thanks to House Resolution 299, those who still serve on active duty and were awarded the Purple Heart are now also exempt from paying the funding fee (as of 1 January 2020) the same as those who receive or are entitled to receive VA compensation for their service-related conditions.

The Resolution also provides for the first increase in the VA loan funding fee program in some time.

A Higher VA Loan Funding Fee Starting In 2020

The VA loan funding fee is on a sliding scale with the lowest fees reserved for first-time VA borrowers, and higher fees for those who have used VA loans before. Prior to the new law, VA loan funding fees for active duty military members buying for the first time were set at 2.15%, with a higher fee for subsequent use set for the same active duty buyer set at 3.3%.

Under the new law, the VA loan funding fee for an active duty first-time borrower is increased to 2.30% and the subsequent use fee set at 3.60%. Other VA loan funding fees are increased too; higher fees may apply for VA refinance loans and other transactions.

What You Need To Know About The VA Loan Limit Rules

VA loan rules under the “Blue Water Act” do remove the loan limits and permit a borrower to potentially buy a house with any price. But VA loan rules cannot compel the lender to approve the transaction in cases where the loan officer feels the borrower cannot realistically afford the mortgage. It will still be required of the borrower and lender alike to prove the loan is affordable and sustainable.

Borrowers will still need to financially qualify for the VA home loan, and lenders must still prove on paper that the loan is affordable. Just because some of the VA loan program requirements have changed does not remove the lender’s need for due diligence.

Understanding Military Pay

Military pay can be hard to understand-at first. There are several types of compensation that may affect a military member’s total pay; some of them are considered “special pay” for duty or qualifications that warrant additional pay in the eyes of the Department of Defense, while other pay may be added for all servicemembers on a yearly basis, or as the result of re-enlisting. There are also allowances, incentive pay, and more.

Basic Pay

Basic pay is the standard, taxable baseline amount a service member earns every month. Basic pay varies depending on three factors: the amount of time spent in the service to date, the time spent in the member’s current rank, and whether or not the military member is an officer or enlisted person. The lowest ranking enlisted member who has served the shortest amount of time in uniform will earn (at the time of this writing) just under $1,500 per month. The highest ranking and longest serving enlisted member will earn just under $8,000 per month.

It’s important to note that Active Duty pay differs from Guard/Reserve pay, and that serving full time offers different terms for pay, allowances, and entitlements than for those in the Guard and Reserve.

For Basic Pay, there is an annual cost-of-living increase that is determined by a variety of factors including Congressional approval.

Military Allowances

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs official site (VA.gov), military allowances are the second most important type of pay available to the service member. Part of the reasoning for this is that allowances are not taxed, and some allowances are quite substantial.

According to the VA, “Allowances are monies provided for specific needs, such as food or housing. Monetary allowances are provided when the government does not provide for that specific need. For example, the quantity of government housing is not sufficient to house all military members and their families. Those who live in government housing do not receive full housing allowances. Those who do not live in government housing receive allowances to assist them in obtaining commercial housing.”

Military allowances include money for housing, uniforms, and meals, depending on rank. The housing allowance is determined in part based on zip code and the rental averages calculated for that area. Uniform allowances are paid annually in most cases. The first clothing allowance is paid to the member during basic training, and other clothing allowances apply beyond that.

When a military member gets orders to a new duty station, a moving truck is usually involved and all the expenses that go with that type of relocation. To help offset the costs of moving, whether overseas or stateside, the Department of Defense provides a dislocation allowance that is approximately $740 for the lowest ranking military member (without dependents). The amount of this allowance is based on the service member’s rank and “with dependents” or “without dependents” status.

Another type of military allowance is the Cost Of Living Allowance, or COLA. In the past, COLA applied mainly to overseas military assignments, but in 1995 new rules allowed those serving at stateside bases to begin receiving COLA based on location. COLA is also calculated based on rank and “with dependents” or “without dependents”.

Incentive, Bonus & Special Pay

There are other types of military pay that are important to get familiar with including special duty pay, incentive pay, sea pay, drill pay, family separation allowance, family subsistence and hazardous duty pay.

 

Military Discounts: Automotive Discounts

2020 veterans and military discount list of hundreds of companies that offer military discounts to service members, retired military, veterans, spouses and their families.

Advance Auto Parts
10% off regularly priced items for in-store purchases to customers who serve or have served our country’s Armed Services with ID.

Anthem Wheels
15% discount on any set of regularly priced Anthem wheels including any applicable custom drill fees for US Armed Forces: Active Duty, Veterans, Disabled, and Retired.

Audi of America
Get special offers and benefits exclusively available to overseas US military personnel via Audi’s Military Sales Program. Visit their website for more info.

Auto Accessories Garage
Men and women of our armed forces get discounts of 5% – 20% not offered to the public.

BMW
Military members and their families living in the U.S. may be eligible for a special rate for an auto lease or purchase. Contact the dealer for more details.

CARiD
Active Duty members, Reserves, Veterans and Retirees – including their immediate families – of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and National Guard receive a discount.

CarParts.com
All active duty military members, reserves, retirees and veterans of the United States Armed Forces are eligible for a 5% discount on all products when an active duty military address or copy of a DD Form 214 is provided.

Chrysler
Get exclusive rebates and affordable financing deals on Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles through the Chrysler Military Program. Applies to Active Duty, Active Reserved, Retired Military, Retired Military Reserve and Veterans.

Ford
Active Military Personnel & Reservists Serving on Active Duty, Veterans separated within the last 180 days, Retirees, Spouse/Surviving spouse, or other household members are eligible for a $500.00 Bonus Cash Offer good toward the purchase or lease of an eligible new recent model year Ford vehicle.

General Motors
Active Duty members, reserves and retirees, including their spouses, of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, National Guard and Coast Guard can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars when purchasing eligible Chevrolet, Buick or GMC vehicles through the GM Military Discount program. There are also regional and dealership incentives available.

Goodyear Tire
Military members and first responders receive 10% off through ID.me.

Harley-Davidson
Harley Davidson has special stateside military financing including no down payment, reduced rates and flexible term options designed specifically for active duty military personnel.

Hyundai
Active duty, veteran or retired members of the US military may get a $500 price slash on any new Hyundai vehicle. Ask your local dealership for more info.

Indian Larry
15% discount with verification of military service.

Infiniti
Receive exclusive new vehicle pricing with their Vehicle Purchase Program. Special pricing varies by month. Must be Active Duty or Reserve and their dependents (spouse or domestic partner) US Military includes: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard.

Jiffy Lube
Most Jiffy Lube locations offer up to 15% off to military members. Because Jiffy Lube locations are independently owned, some may opt not to participate in the discount program.

KC Hilites
Military, Government, and Law Enforcement personnel get up to 20 percent off.

Kia Motors America
Special offers for active members of the United States Armed Forces, reserves, and the immediate family of participant (spouse or child).

Land Rover
The Military Sales Specialists can help you with all aspects of military sales, your choice of vehicle and available discounts.

Lincoln Motor Company
Active Military Personnel & Reservists Serving on Active Duty, Veterans separated within the last 180 days, Retirees, Spouse/Surviving spouse, or other household members are eligible for a $750.00 Bonus Cash Offer good toward the purchase or lease of an eligible new recent model year Lincoln vehicle.

Meineke
Meineke franchises offer discounts to military members on select services. Discounts and qualified services vary by location.

Morris 4×4 Center
5% off + no min and free shipping for military personnel, police officers, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics.

Nissan
Receive exclusive new vehicle pricing with their Vehicle Purchase Program. Special pricing varies by month. Inlcudes Active and Reserve US Military, Retired Military, Veterans discharged from active service within the past year, and their spouses and partners.

O’Reilly Auto Parts
All O’Reilly Auto Parts stores provide a discount, usually 5% to 10%, to active and retired military personnel with proper ID. Offer is not valid online.

Pep Boys Military Discount
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday active-duty and retired military customers can receive a 10% discount at local stores. Present a valid military ID to save.

Scion
If you are a member of the U.S. Military with current active duty status or an inactive reservist, you may qualify for a $500 rebate towards the purchase or lease of a new Scion when financed or leased through a participating Scion dealer and Toyota Financial Services (TFS).

Subaru
Discount to active-duty and reserve members of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, National Guard, and Coast Guard, as well as veterans and retirees within 12 months of your date of separation.

Take 5 Oil Change
Military active duty, reservists, and veterans are eligible to receive 25% off on any oil change at all Take 5 locations. Please show proof of service or a valid military ID.

TBC Retail Group (Tire & Auto Centers)
Spend 10% less on tire and auto services at any of 1,300 Tire Kingdom, NTB-National Tire and Battery, Merchant’s Tire and Auto Centers and Big O Tires centers nationwide. Present a valid US military ID to enjoy these discounts. Participation varies by location.

Throtl
Current & former U.S. military, military spouses and dependents and first responders (law enforcement, fire, and EMS) can save up to 10%.

TireBuyer.com
7% off tires for active duty military, veterans, and their family members. Free same day shipping available.

Toyota
Receive a $500 rebate on any new Toyota vehicle. Available to U.S. active duty and reserves, household members of eligible military personnel (including Gold Star families), retirees (within 1 year of retirement) and military veterans (within 1 year of discharge)

Volkswagen
As subscribers to the Military Assistance Corporation (MAC), Volkswagon helps simplify the payment process for military personnel who finance the purchase of a new vehicle with Volkswagen Credit. Applies to military personnel and full-time Federal Civil Service employees.

Volvo
Volvo’s military savings promotions change often, see site for latest offer.

Career Help & Military Transition Assistance

Veterans returning to the workforce after military service face a variety of challenges. Translating military experience to a civilian resume is one of the most obvious of these, but even this is too easily taken for granted in terms of how easy it may or may not be to do so and what current trends in job hunting (and resume writing) might be at the time of separation from the U.S. military.

Fortunately there is help available for transitioning service members. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers career and employment help through a variety of programs including job counseling and transition advice, to support and training for self-employed veterans.

At the time of this writing, many of these services were previously linked with the government website called Vets.gov, but the pages of that website now redirect to the Department of Veterans Affairs official site, VA.gov. If you have previously researched your career counseling and transition assistance options, you may find your Vets.gov resources redirected to the VA.

CareerScope: A Helpful Tool To Use Before You Start Your Transition

Long before you accept your final military orders and begin outprocessing, you should review your job skills and think about how you want to transfer your abilities to the civilian workplace. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a helpful tool to start your transition out of a life in uniform and into civilian life.

This tool is known as CareerScope and is offered only to qualified military members and qualified family members. What makes you eligible to use CareerScope?

The VA official site states those allowed access to this tool include:

  • Dependents who qualify for VA education benefits
  • Veterans
  • Currently serving military members
  • Dependents who are already using VA education benefits

How CareerScope Can Help You

CareerScope is an assessment tool. The VA official site states that using CareerScope will provide the user with an assessment of how interests, aptitude, and experience can translate into job or learning opportunities.

Once the assessment is complete you are provided with recommendations about post-military careers, education, and training that may help pursue the career options discussed in the assessment.

CareerScope breaks things down into a dozen “interest areas” that include a set of “work activity statements” from these areas. The assessment covers general learning abilities, manual dexterity, verbal and numerical skills, and more.

Once the assessment is completed you can apply for VA Education And Career Counseling (see below).

Technical Requirements To Use CareerScope

Use of the VA CareerScope tool requires the user to create an account. New users may register on the VA official site so they can begin using the assessment tool.

Chapter 36 Educational And Career Counseling

Those leaving military service may need help finding ways to transition into a civilian career. Some military career fields translate directly into the civilian job market, but others may not be so easily matched with jobs in the private sector. VA Chapter 36 Educational and Career Counseling is a free program for veterans with any discharge other than Dishonorable, offering the following services:

  • Educational and career counseling to locate training programs or job opportunities
  • Counseling to help veterans choose new jobs
  • Academic and adjustment counseling

Eligibility For VA Educational And Career Counseling

The Department of Veterans Affairs official site publishes a list of those who are eligible for VA Educational and Career Counseling. They include, but may not be limited to, the following:

  • Any veteran currently eligible for a VA education benefit
  • Transitioning service members with six months or less remaining before discharge from active duty
  • Veterans within one year after discharge from active duty
  • Any service member currently eligible for a VA education benefit
  • All other current VA education beneficiaries

Services offered by the VA include:

  • Benefits Coaching – learn how to make the most of your VA benefits and resources
  • Career Choice – VA counseling designed to help you understand civilian career options based on the user’s interests, experience, etc.
  • Personalized Support – Counseling and personalized support for both academic and military transition issues

How To Apply For VA Educational and Career Counseling

  • Log in to your eBenefits account
    Select “Apply”
  • Select “Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Benefits”
  • Apply for Educational and Career Counseling
  • After your eligibility is confirmed you will receive an invitation to an orientation session at the VA Regional Office nearest you

How To Apply Without Access To eBenefits 

  • Print and complete VA Form 28-8832
  • Mail VA Form 28-8832 to the nearest VA Regional Office, addressed attention to Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
  • After your eligibility is confirmed you will receive an invitation to an orientation session at the VA Regional Office nearest you

The VA Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation And Employment Program (VR&E)

Veterans and currently serving military members with disabilities can find assistance from the VA under the Chapter 31 VR&E program. This is for those with service-connected disabilities that affects the ability to work. There are a group of five “tracks” designed to help, including:

  • Self-Employment Track – made to help veterans with a service-connected disability start and maintain a business, freelance career, etc.
  • Reemployment Track – created to help service members and veterans know their rights when returning to civilian employment after military service.
  • Rapid Access to Employment Track – made to assist veterans in finding jobs that match their military skills.
  • Independent Living Track – created to match veterans with resources to help them live “as independently as possible if you can’t return to work right away” according to the official site.
  • Employment Through Long-Term Services Track – This track is intended to help those eligible for vocational training to help you develop new job skills.

Eligibility Requirements For VA Chapter 31 VR&E Benefits

Veterans may be eligible for VR&E benefits and services if all of the following apply:

  • The veteran did not receive a dishonorable discharge, and;
  • Has a service-connected disability rating of at least 10% from VA, and;
  • Applies for VR&E services.

There is a basic maximum eligibility time frame of 12 years from the day the veteran receives her date of separation from military service OR the date of receipt of the first VA disability rating.

Chapter 31 VR&E Benefits For Those Still Serving In The Military

Qualifying active duty service members may be eligible for VR&E benefits when the following conditions apply:

  • The service member has a 20% or higher pre-discharge disability rating (also known as a “memorandum rating”) and is departing military service soon OR;
  • The service member is participating in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) process OR;
  • The service member is waiting for a military discharge due to a medical condition resulting from a condition that occurred in the line of duty.

Basic Services Available Through The VA Chapter 31 VR&E Program

  • Resume development
  • Evaluations to determine your job abilities, skills, and interests
  • Vocational counseling
  • Rehabilitation planning for employment services
  • Job training, apprenticeships, and non-paid work experiences
  • Training/learning at a college, vocational, technical, or business school
  • Counseling
  • Medical referrals
  • Independent living services for those unable to work due to disabilities
  • Case management

Applying For VA Chapter 31 VR&E Benefits

 At the time of this writing, the Department of Veterans Affairs accepts Chapter 31 applications through the eBenefits portal. Those who do not have eBenefits accounts will need to create them or contact the nearest VA office to get assistance.

Servicemembers should know that it is not required to wait until final outprocessing and discharge to apply for VR&E benefits. You can fill out VA Form 28-0588, VA Vocational Rehabilitation – Getting Ahead After You Get Out and submit it to the Department of Veterans affairs. Eligibility in such cases is possible if one of the following is true:

  • The veteran expects an other than dishonorable discharge and has a VA memorandum rating of 20% or more OR;
  • The applicant is in the process of being reviewed by a Physical Evaluation Board OR;
  • The veteran is in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES).

After a veteran or service member has applied, the VA will arrange a meeting with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to determine whether there is a current or potential employment handicap and discuss eligibility for VR&E benefits and services.

The VA official site says, “You have an employment handicap if your service-connected disability limits your ability to prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment (a job that doesn’t make your disability worse, is stable, and matches your abilities, aptitudes, and interests).”

The Department of Veterans Affairs will make what they call an “entitlement decision” and begin working with the veteran to develop a rehabilitation plan and schedule the use of services, etc.

Contact the nearest VA office in your area to learn more about Chapter 31 VR&E benefits and how they apply to you.

Money for School: Federal Student Aid

The federal government offers several Student Financial Aid Programs. These programs offer you low interest loans and grants (free money) for school.

Unlike the GI Bill, these programs are paid by the Dept. of Education through the school. Federal Student Aid is designed to assist you in meeting the cost of tuition, books, fees, and living expenses while you go to school.

That means that once the school has taken its share, the remaining loan or grant balance goes to you.

Financial Student Aid Eligibility

It doesn’t matter whether you are active duty, reserve, veteran, retiree, on GI Bill, or not — you should be taking advantage of these programs. There are numerous examples of even senior active duty members receiving federal loans and large grants.

Remember: Grants are gifts that you don’t repay!

Eligibility for most federal student aid is based on financial need and on several other factors. The most basic eligibility requirements to receive federal student aid are as follows:

  • You must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen,
  • You must maintain satisfactory academic progress (defined as having at least a 2.0 GPA and being on track to graduate within 150% of the normal timeframe) in college or career school, and

Applying for FSA

You can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on the FAFSA website.

Money Saving Tip: FAFSA is a Free Application for Federal Student Aid; however there are some websites that offer to complete the FAFSA for you, for upwards of $50. The FAFSA form only takes a relatively short time to complete. It is worth your time to complete it yourself.

Every accredited school that is recognized by the Education Department will be eligible for some form of FSA. The schools you select will send you information on how to get the funding you need to reach your education goals.

Interest Rate Cap for Military Members

If you qualify under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the interest rate on loans you had before entering military service may be capped at 6% during your military service. You must contact your loan servicer to request this benefit.

Grants

Grants are free money for school paid to you through the school’s business office. After your school bills are paid, the remaining balance goes to you. There are several types of grants.

Pell Grants

You must be an undergraduate student who doesn’t have a bachelor or professional degree. If you are enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teaching certificate program, you also may receive a Pell Grant. Depending on your financial need and tuition costs, you can receive up to $6,195 each school year.

FSEOG

FSEOG is short for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. These grants are reserved for the most needy candidates, and can be paid in addition to Pell grants. FSEO Grants are limited from $100 to $4,000 each year.

TEACH Grants

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program provides grants of up to $4,000 a year to students who are completing or plan to complete course work needed to begin a career in teaching.

As a condition for receiving a TEACH Grant, you must sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve in which you agree to (among other requirements) teach

  • in a high-need field
  • at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency that serves students from low-income families
  • for at least four complete academic years within eight years after completing (or ceasing enrollment in) the course of study for which you received the grant.

IMPORTANT: If you do not complete your service obligation, all TEACH Grant funds you received will be converted to a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. You must then repay this loan to the U.S. Department of Education, with interest charged from the date the TEACH Grant was disbursed.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

You may be eligible to receive the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant if

  • you are not eligible for a Federal Pell Grant on the basis of your Expected Family Contribution but meet all other requirements, and
  • your parent or guardian was a military member who died as a result of military service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11, and
  • you were under 24 years old or enrolled in college at least part-time at the time of your parent’s or guardian’s death.

Loans

FSA Loans are Financial Aid that is either funded or backed by the federal government, and paid directly through the school. Each type of loan has different fees (a percentage charged up front), interest rates and payment deferment plans.

Direct Loans

There are two different types of Direct Loans, Subsidized and Unsubsidized. These loans are identical in most ways, except how and when you begin to be charged interest.

Subsidized – Direct Subsidized Loans are for students with financial need. Your school will review the results of your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and determine the amount you can borrow. You aren’t charged interest while you’re in school at least half-time and during grace periods and deferment periods.

Unsubsidized – You aren’t required to demonstrate financial need to receive a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. Like subsidized loans, your school will determine the amount you can borrow. Interest accumulates from the date of issue with no exceptions. You can pay the interest while you are in school and during grace periods and deferment or forbearance periods, or you can allow it to accrue and be capitalized (that is, added to the principal amount of your loan). If you choose not to pay the interest as it accrues, this will increase the total amount you have to repay because you will be charged interest on a higher principal amount.

Tricare: Supplemental Insurance

TRICARE is the United States Military health care program for military members and their families, providing worldwide, comprehensive healthcare coverage including health plans that meet the minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act, plus prescriptions, dental plans, and special plans tailored for certain types of medical conditions or coverage requirements. The TRICARE system is managed by the Defense Health Agency.

TRICARE requires certain co-pays and there may be health expenses not covered by a particular plan; that is where TRICARE supplemental insurance can help. But supplemental insurance should not be confused with TRICARE itself. The supplemental plan a servicemember and family might choose will not be affiliated with TRICARE but with another agency.

What Kinds Of Out-Of-Pocket Costs Might Require TRICARE Supplemental Insurance?

A service member’s individual out-of-pocket expenses under TRICARE will vary depending on the medical condition and the type of TRICARE plan the service member chooses. There are a variety of coverage options that have varying degrees of out-of-pocket costs.

TRICARE Coverage Options

  • TRICARE For Life
  • TRICARE Young Adult
  • TRICARE Select
  • TRICARE Select Overseas
  • TRICARE Reserve Select
  • TRICARE Prime (including Prime, Prime Remote, Prime Overseas, and Prime Remote Overseas
  • TRICARE Retired Reserve
  • US Family Health Plan

Active duty military members who choose one of the TRICARE PRIME options have no out-of-pocket expenses, no enrollment fees, no network co-pays, and no point-of-service fees. Once the active duty military member starts adding family members, the potential for co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses begins.

Retirees, family members of military retirees, and other beneficiaries are subject to enrollment fees, co-pays, and point-of-service fees.

The non-Prime TRICARE options include more deductibles, co-pays, and other potential cost-sharing expenses. Active duty members typically pay less than other groups eligible for coverage for co-pays, deductibles, etc.

For those enrolled in certain programs such as TRICARE For Life, no enrollment fees apply but the veteran must be covered by Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B.

Not all plans feature the same requirements, co-pays, or deductibles, but it’s clear that once you move down from TRICARE Prime, additional expenses will apply that may make it worthwhile to explore TRICARE supplemental insurance options.

How Does TRICARE Supplemental Insurance Work?

The first thing to know about TRICARE supplemental insurance is that it is not associated with TRICARE at all, but rather provided by a third party. The U.S. government weighs in on supplemental insurance on the TRICARE official site, stating:

“Many military associations and private companies offer supplemental insurance policies. Unlike other health insurance you have in addition to TRICARE, such as Medicare or an employer-sponsored health insurance, which pays first, supplemental insurance pays after TRICARE pays its’ portion of the bill.”

The TRICARE official site warns its’ insured clients to consider supplemental insurance carefully since the cost of the additional plan may exceed the actual out-of-pocket expenses the plan is designed to offset (depending on circumstances).

Does Everyone Need Tricare Supplemental Insurance Coverage?

The short answer is no. Active duty members are fully covered under TRICARE Prime options, and those with special circumstances may not necessarily need to resort to additional coverage thanks to a set of special TRICARE programs such as the Extended Care Health Option (ECHO).

The Extended Healthcare Option is open to TRICARE beneficiaries diagnosed “with moderate or severe intellectual disability, a serious physical disability, or an extraordinary physical or psychological condition” according to the TRICARE official site. Those beneficiaries include:

  • Transitional Compensation Program
  • Active duty family members;
  • Family members who are covered under the Transitional Assistance Management Program
    Children or spouses of former service members who are victims of abuse and qualify for the
  • Family members of deceased active duty sponsors (while still considered “transitional survivors.”)
  • Family members of activated or ordered to active duty service for more than 30 days in a row including the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve;

TRICARE Policy Changes May Affect Your Coverages

Some who started out not interested in TRICARE supplemental insurance may, due to policy changes and other factors, wind up needed supplemental coverage. A good example of this was the 2013 TRICARE policy changes that resulted in certain military retirees losing access to TRICARE Prime and needing to switch to TRICARE Standard.

That policy change affected military retirees, their dependents, surviving dependents, and TRICARE Young Adult members who live outside a reasonable commuting distance to the nearest military medical facility or base closure site.

The switch to TRICARE Standard in those cases resulted in changes to co-pays and other expenses, and likely sent some former TRICARE Prime enrollees affected by that change in search of supplemental insurance.

TRICARE reserves the right to change its’ policies in the future, so knowing your options for additional covered if and when needed is definitely a good idea if future medical expenses are anticipated for chronic conditions, recurring issues, etc.

GI Bill: What Happens When You Are Mobilized?

If you are receiving the GI Bill and have to drop out of school as a result of reserve or Guard mobilization orders what will happen to your GI Bill? Will you lose your housing allowance? Will you owe the Department Veterans Affairs money?

Different Rules For Mobilizations

Normally, if you drop classes the VA will take back any money, including the tuition and Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) payments you received for those classes. However, different rules apply if you’re dropping them because you’ve been mobilized for military service.

If you drop out due to mobilization, the VA will pay your tuition and fees to the school for the entire term, no matter when you drop out. As a special bonus, VA will also give you back any GI Bill entitlement you used during the term from which you were forced to withdraw.

For instance, if your term began on Jan. 15 and you dropped out on March 15, you used two months of GI Bill entitlement (which is normally 36 months total). VA will pay you for attending school those two months and give you back those two months of entitlement to be used at a later date.

VA will also pay you the MHA through your date of withdrawal, rather than stopping it on the beginning date of the term, which is what normally happens if you drop classes. If you’ve been mobilized under Title 10 or under Title 32 for at least 30 days, your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) will begin on the effective date of your orders, so you will most likely get some type of housing allowance for the entire time.

Effect of Mobilization on Future GI Bill Payments

Being called to active duty may also increase your Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlement percentage. The entitlement percentage is based on the amount of time you have served on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001. The entitlement percentage affects how much of your tuition is reimbursed to the school and how much your MHA payment will be.

For example, if you have served 24 months active duty after Sept. 10, 2001 your GI Bill percentage is 80%. If you are attending a public school with a tuition of $10,000 a semester you would have 80% of your tuition and fees or $8,000 paid by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Active duty orders and mobilizations can add more active service to your base GI Bill percentage. The percentages and corresponding active duty requirements are:

  • 100% – 36 or more total months
  • 100% – 30 or more consecutive days with disability related discharge.
  • 90% – 30 total months
  • 80% – 24 total months
  • 70% – 18 total months
  • 60% – 6 total months
  • 50% – 90 or more days

The entire length of your mobilization will be added to your existing service.

Also, if you haven’t been on active service since before Jan. 1, 2013, your mobilization may give you more time to use your GI Bill.

People who were discharged before that date have 15 years to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill or 10 years to use their Montgomery GI Bill. However, additional active duty of at least 90 days effectively removes that time limit, and your additional active duty will effectively remove any time limits for receiving your GI Bill. Thanks to that new service, you are now covered under Public Law 115-48, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, commonly known as the “Forever GI Bill.”