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 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.

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 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.
  • 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.

These programs assist with transferring class credits:

  • 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.
  • 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.

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