The 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success

The Department Of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have long affirmed their commitment to military education for active duty, Guard, Reserve, and military dependents whether spouses or children.

But the DoD and VA efforts are not without support from other government agencies such as the Department of Education (DoE). Did you know the U.S. Department of Education has its own compact with well over two thousand colleges nationwide?

The Eight Keys To Veterans’ Success program is a voluntary partnership between schools and the DoE; this partnership involves providing veterans, currently serving military, military spouses and military college-age children a welcoming and consistent learning environment.

A Brief History Of Eight Keys To Veterans’ Success

The start of federal college degree programs for military members and their families can be traced back to the World War Two-era Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, which established the earliest version of the GI Bill and opened a whole new set of opportunities for millions of beneficiaries.

In 1944, attending college after military service wasn’t anything like what Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Space Force and Coast Guard students expect today. Over the decades, colleges and the government have worked together to create more robust opportunities for transferring military experience to college credit, allowing spouses and dependents to use GI Bill benefits, and more.

But it took a long time to get there, and in some cases required direct action by the Executive Branch to push change for military students into the foreground. One excellent example? The use of the Executive Order to improve the college experience for veterans and families.

Starting around 2016, a great deal of negative press has surrounded the use of Executive Orders by the President. But the use of this presidential power has not always been fraught with controversy; one such Executive Order laid the foundation for many improvements to the college experience for military members, dependents, and spouses who wish to attend school using military education benefits.

During the Obama administration, Executive Order 13607, “Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members” was considered a mandate for government agencies to work together with colleges, universities, and other higher learning facilities to serve those who have served the nation.

As a result of that order, President Barack Obama announced the Eight Keys To Veterans’ Success program at the 2013 Disabled American Veterans National Convention in Florida. At the time, some 250 higher learning institutions signed up for the program, which was drafted with the help of more than one hundred experts, “to review approaches that could be scaled and replicated to foster Veterans’ success on campus and via distance learning.”

The planning phase of this program also included input from non-profit organizations, veterans service organizations, and veterans who had recently completed college programs. Over time, more than two thousand institutions of higher learning have signed up for this voluntary agreement.

Establishing this program wasn’t just a symbolic effort between the DoE, DoD, and the VA; it is also seen by many as a way to protect valuable military benefits such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill and make sure those benefits aren’t wasted on education that does not live up to its marketing hype.

And with good reason; since the start of the Post 9/11 GI Bill program in 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs has paid more than $30 billion in GI Bill funds; according to the VA official site, nearly a million service members, Veterans, and their families have used this important military education benefit.

The Eight Keys To Veterans’ Success

The official list created by the federal government includes the following eight precepts that member institutions volunteer to abide by. It should be noted that agreeing to these principles is not considered compliance with the Department of Defense Memorandum Of Understanding all colleges must agree to in order to receive federal education funds such as GI Bill payments.

The eight keys are as follows, as presented by the DoE official site:

  • Utilize a uniform set of data tools to collect and track information on veterans, including demographics, retention, and degree completion.
  • Create a culture of trust and connectedness across the campus community to promote well-being and success for veterans.
  • Ensure consistent and sustained support from campus leadership.
  • Coordinate and centralize campus efforts for all veterans, together with the creation of a designated space for them (even if limited in size).
  • Collaborate with local communities and organizations, including government agencies, to align and coordinate various services for veterans.
  • Provide comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff on issues and challenges unique to veterans.
  • Develop systems that ensure sustainability of effective practices for veterans.
  • Implement an early alert system to ensure all veterans receive academic, career, and financial advice before challenges become overwhelming.

But Wait, There’s More

Schools who sign up to agree to implement the Eight Keys To Veterans’ Success are also encouraged by the VA and the DoE to agree to a second agreement called the Principles Of Excellence Program. This is another collaborative effort between the Department of Education and the DoD/VA.

According to the official site, the Principles of Excellence are guidelines “for educational institutions receiving funding from the VA.”

The Principles of Excellence guidelines include the following:

  • Accommodate Service members and Reservists absent due to service requirements.
  • Provide students with a personalized form covering the total cost of an education program.
  • Provide educational plans for all military and Veteran education beneficiaries.
  • Designate a point of contact to provide academic and financial advice.
  • Ensure accreditation of all new programs prior to enrolling students.
  • Align institutional refund policies with those under Title IV, which governs the administration of federal student financial aid programs.
  • End fraudulent and aggressive recruiting techniques and misrepresentations.

How to Hire Veterans

What are the best ways to hire veterans? Much depends on the nature of your business, whether you are seeking a certain type of status associated by veteran-operated businesses, and how many new hires you wish to bring on.

Hiring a veteran brings with it associated benefits in some cases. The IRS official site has a page dedicated to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which provides tax breaks for employers who hire from certain classes of the work force including those who draw SSI, long-term family assistance recipients, and veterans.

Hiring veterans also means the need for fully codified employer policies about how the company will manage an employee’s military duty commitments for Guard, Reserve, or even active duty hires.

Knowing Where To Look

There are many places you can look for veterans to hire as full-time, part-time, commission, or contractors; state and local agencies have job placement and career development programs you can partner with.

Employers should consider participating in job fairs near military bases, Guard and Reserve unit headquarters, or even at college campuses with a strong ROTC presence. But knowing where to look for suitable job candidates is only half the battle.

The best way to hire veterans includes making a fully informed choice when choosing to bring one on board; you should know what your rights and responsibilities are as an employer ahead of your hiring decision.

Fortunately, there is excellent advice from a number of government agencies that can help. The Department of Labor, and even the government’s hiring portal, all have helpful information for hiring managers and supervisors.

How To Hire A Veteran: The Department Of Labor (DOL)

The Department of Labor official site has a section dedicated to the hiring of veterans and associated programs and policies. DOL veteran programs include:

  • Military Spouses
  • Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program
  • Jobs for Veterans State Grants
  • Stand Down
  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)
  • Federal Contractor Reporting / VETS-4212
  • HIRE Vets Medallion Program
  • Veterans’ Preference
  • Women Veterans

These programs are aimed at employers, event organizers, licensing agencies, etc. They are not designed as placement options for individual job seekers, but as resources for those who hire, train, etc.

In many cases the programs above may target certain portions of the veteran population; employers who need resources to hire homeless veterans, those who need guidance or assistance with federal contracting procedures or in properly helping job seekers apply veteran preference, etc.

DOL also provides direct advice for those who want to hire veterans; there are employment representatives in each state and a general contact e-mail address for those who need to speak to a DOL rep about hiring vets.

Hiring Vets: Advice From The Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA has created a Veterans Employment Toolkit designed to help those who wish to employ vets. The toolkit includes information on government subsidies that can be used to offset the salary of a new hire, assistive and adaptive technology, how to interpret a veteran’s “non-pay work experience,” and information on VA incentives that may be offered to certain companies for hiring qualified veterans.

The VA toolkit also includes information about Department of Labor programs that incorporate online training and other resources for those who want to hire from America’s ever-growing pool of military members and vets.

The VA Veteran Employer Toolkit is featured prominently in the VA Vocational Rehab & Employment official site. There is another portion of the VA official site titled Veterans Opportunity to Work that features a section aimed specifically at employers.

The VA requests owners and supervisors who want to learn more about participating in the program to contact the VA directly at Call 1-800-827-1000 or the nearest VA regional office and ask for the VR&E Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor or Employment Coordinator. You can also visit the VA VR&E employer webpage .

Employer Support Of The Guard And Reserve (ESGR)

At the beginning of this article we mentioned employer obligations for members of the Guard and Reserve. ESGR is a government program designed to help employers understand and meet their legal commitment to employees who serve. Knowing your responsibilities to your Guard and Reserve employees is crucial to staying in legal compliance with federal law.

It is also key to maintaining a good-faith relationship with your Guard and Reserve hires. As with ADA law, not knowing your legal responsibilities in this area is a huge liability. State law may also play a role in your obligations to Guard and Reserve troops; know before you hire.


Public Law 115-31, also known as the Honoring Investments in Recruiting and Employing American Military Veterans Act of 2017 (HIRE Vets Act), required the establishment of a program which “recognizes employer efforts to recruit, employ, and retain veterans.”

Those who meet certain criteria established by the Act, “will receive a “HIRE Vets Medallion Award.” That may not sound like much to an outsider, but veterans who apply for jobs at companies that have earned this award may feel more confident about their potential employer knowing the company has been evaluated and praised under the award program.

It’s not the same as a DoD stamp of approval, but those who hire with the medallion award certainly have an advantage when trying to make an impression about the quality of the workplace.

The HIRE Vets Act awards are aimed at three different categories of employer: large, medium, and small businesses. “For each award, the employer must satisfy a set of criteria. Verification of these criteria includes a self-attestation by the applicant and a check for violations of veteran-related DOL labor laws by the U.S. Department of Labor” according to the official site.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

EEOC publishes a fact sheet for veterans titled, Understanding Your Employment Rights Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A Guide for Veterans.

This fact sheet is aimed at the employee, but it is critical for all who hire vets to know these policies and understand what the new hire will expect from you, the employer, on a legal basis where ADA compliance and related issues are concerned.

Not all veterans have disabilities, but all who have them (military or not) are protected in the American workplace by ADA laws. As an employer, if you do not know your ADA responsibilities as well as employee rights, you set yourself up for major legal liability. Know before you hire.

Things To Ask Yourself When Hiring Veterans

Those who hire don’t always have military experience. When recruiting vets for your company, it’s important to remember that a military career requires skills far above and beyond the job title or even the job description. A new hire who held the rank of E4 or higher likely has been given management and leadership training, has functioned as a section head or an assistant department head, and may have other experience that is difficult to quantify on a resume but adds value to your company.

We all know the hiring process will involve interviews and a Q&A process of some kind, but what should an employer ask themselves before the interview?

  • Veterans often thrive on the same kind of structure they experienced in the military; they may not be used to the kind of ambiguity often experienced in the civilian hiring process. Have you established a way to help veterans understand the process of hiring once the resume has been submitted?
  • What are your most urgent needs for the company?
  • Are you asking about other job experience besides “direct experience” and the applicant’s education?
  • How will you make your veteran applicants more comfortable with your hiring/interviewing process? What would you do for someone if you knew you were the first civilian interviewer they had spoken with since leaving military service?
  • In your conversation with veterans, how will you try to understand and identify with their unique needs?

During the interview, it is very helpful for the interviewer to ask a veteran at the start to either avoid or explain military jargon that comes up in conversation. Don’t be too hard on a veteran for slipping back into acronym-speak; old habits are hard to break.

When your interviewee starts talking about “additional duties”, for example, that is a responsibility given to a military member that is not her main job, but is still expected as a member of the team.

An Army Public Affairs officer may be responsible for dealing with the press and for interacting with local leaders, but they are also tasked with conducting base tours for the public and escorting non-military VIP visitors to certain functions on post.

Was that the officer’s main duty? No, but it is significant enough to mention in an interview where relevant. That is the sort of nuance you can expect from your veteran resumes and interviews.

You can always ask for clarification in the interview. When it comes to additional duty (which is a subject that comes up frequently when a vet is asked what they did for a living while in uniform) always ask if the interviewee can quantify how much time was spent doing that duty (assuming it is relevant to the conversation).

You may be surprised at the breadth and depth of these extra tasks. A great example–the author of this article had an additional duty in his job as a reporter for Air Force Television News; he was the equipment inventory custodian for all the TV news cameras, microphones, and other broadcast gear.

The financial responsibility for this inventory? Valued at a million dollars, collectively. That is an additional duty worth mentioning in an interview if it’s relevant. Some additional duties are mundane, others require a great deal of attention.

A Hiring Guide for Military & Veterans

Many companies understand the value that veterans and military family members can bring to a workplace. Members of the military community have many qualities and skills that can benefit companies in a variety of industries.

What qualities can veterans and military family members bring to a company?

Companies that are interested in recruiting and hiring members of the military community can find employees in three categories:

  • Military spouses: spouses are often highly educated, but many need jobs that offer mobility and flexibility to allow them to continue their careers when their spouse’s job requires them to move.
  • Veterans: veterans have separated from the military and have education and/or professional experience and are seeking companies and organizations that can help them build on their existing training and skills.
  • Transitioning service members: service members who are transitioning are in the process of separating from the military and are looking to start their civilian career. These service members may be seeking assistance in their job search as they transition into the civilian workforce.

By hiring a member of the military community, a company can bring a great deal of value to their team. Some of the qualities these individuals contribute to a workplace include:

  • Ability to perform under pressure; veterans understand how to accomplish tasks on time and despite being under stress.
  • The ability to learn new concepts and skills, as well as transferable skills that have been proven in real-world situations.
  • Leadership skills, as well as skills in direction, motivation, inspiration, and delegation. Veterans understand leadership dynamics and how to lead many different types of people.
  • Teamwork and having a responsibility to coworkers, as well as the ability to be productive individually or as part of a team.
  • Diversity and inclusion; veterans can work alongside others regardless of their race, gender, ethnic background, economic status, or religion, and are able to cooperate with many different types of people.
  • Respecting procedures and having accountability.
  • Veterans are often knowledgeable about technical trends in business and industry and bring a global outlook and technological savvy to an employer.
  • Integrity, trustworthiness, and sincerity.
  • Resilience and the ability to overcome adversity.

Some additional qualities that veterans bring to an organization include:

  • An ability to learn new skills quickly
  • High rates of productivity
  • Higher retention rates after being hired
  • Loyalty to a company and to their coworkers

Veterans also offer a variety of “soft skills” that are valuable across many different industries.

These include:

  • Communication
  • Managerial skills
  • Problem solving

How can companies recruit veterans and military family members?

There are several steps that companies can take to recruit members of the military population:

  • Work to build the company’s brand in the military community as a military employer of choice.
  • Attend job fairs on military installations, or post job openings on military job boards.
  • Ask members of their existing workforce, especially those who have served in the military, if they have any contacts they could recommend for open positions within the company.
  • Utilize government initiatives such as FedsHireVets and to post job openings and recruit veteran applicants.
  • Use a skills translator to translate military job duties into civilian skills and ask veterans in your organization to help mentor new recruits.

How can hiring veterans help companies?

In addition to the qualities veterans bring as employees, companies can receive certain benefits as a result of hiring veterans. The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program provides several incentives to companies that employ veterans. These include:

  • Salary reimbursement: under the Special Employer Incentive, employers may be eligible to receive incentives for hiring veterans facing obstacles to employment, which include reimbursement of up to half the veteran’s salary for as long as six months.
  • Subsidies for salaries: the VR&E provides on-the-job training and subsidizes salaries for veterans so employers pay an apprentice-level wage. As the veteran gains experience, the employer pays a higher portion of their salary until the training program is complete, and the employer pays the veteran’s full salary.
  • Assistive technology: VR&E can provide workplace modifications, specialized tools, and equipment to allow veterans to perform their job duties.
  • Federal tax credits: under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, employers who hire veterans may be eligible to receive tax credits.

What are the benefits of hiring military spouses?

Military spouses face many barriers to employment and building a career due to their military lifestyle. These can include having to change jobs often due to frequent moves, and difficulties obtaining childcare when spouses are deployed. The current unemployment rate for military spouses is 24%, higher than the national average. The Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) was created to address these challenges and help spouses find employment. MSEP is part of the Department of Defense’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program, which helps connect military spouses and employers.

In addition to MSEP, SECO offers multiple resources to military spouses to help improve career and education opportunities, including:

  • Helping spouses identify their skills, interests, and goals through career exploration opportunities.
  • Training and education to help spouses identify licensing, credentialing, or academic requirements that will help them reach their career goals.
  • Employment networking and connections to help spouses find a rewarding career.
  • Employment readiness assistance to help spouses market their skills.

Military spouses have many valuable qualities that can help an organization, including:

  • The ability to handle pressure and stress: they must deal with spouse deployments, relocate often, learn about a new location, and develop new support networks frequently.
  • They are able to learn new skills quickly.
  • They take responsibility, are accountable, and are loyal employees.
  • They are patient, flexible, resilient, and able to adapt to new environments and cultures.
  • They have excellent communication skills, emotional intelligence, are able to handle logistics, and have many other abilities.

What Veterans Need to Know About Federal Debts Right Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You Owe a Debt to the Department of Veterans Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You Have Federal Student Loans

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

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

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

Special Military Benefits

While members of all branches of the military receive extensive military discounts, US Army Service Members and veterans have an exclusive set of benefits available to them. From career training and educational benefits to resources for families, Army Service Members should take advantage of these special benefits.

Army and Air Force Exchange

Through the Army and Air Force Exchange, members of the Army can purchase discounted goods and services. Not only do service members save up to 20 percent compared to traditional stores, but a significant portion of the profits from the Exchange support MWR activities. With its collection of stores and fast food restaurants, the Exchange provides employment opportunities for Army and Air Force family members as well.

State Benefits

Individual states offer their own benefits for Army Service Members and veterans. Some of the benefits offered by individual states:

    • Education and Transition
      State education programs typically offer special programs to help make up the difference between the benefits provided by the Post 9/11 GI Bill and tuition at state universities. In Missouri, the cost of credit hours at state universities is capped at $50 for service members and veterans. Other states cover the entire difference for veterans who choose to attend a public university. Individual states also seek to help soldiers transition to civilian life. Missouri’s Operation Outreach provides financial services, advocacy and other transition services for veterans. Virginia’s Employment Commission helps veterans with job placement and job training.
    • Taxes
      States such as Virginia and Missouri offer state income tax deductions for service members and veterans. Many states also exempt veterans from paying all or a portion of their property taxes.
    • Hunting and Fishing
      Army service members and veterans receive reduced price or free hunting and fishing licenses in most states. For example, in Virginia, for only $10, service members and veterans receive hunting and fishing privileges for life.

Education benefits provided for Army members are designed to supplement the benefits given the military members through the Post 9/11 GI Bill®.

    • Army Green To Gold Program
      The Army’s Green to Gold Active Duty Option (ADO) is a two-year program offered to eligible enlisted active duty Soldiers allowing them to earn a degree and a commission by completing their first bachelor’s degree or their first two-year graduate degree.
    • Fry Scholarship
      Children of soldiers who die in the line of duty are eligible for the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship. Recipients of the scholarship receive up to 36 months of full tuition and have until the age of 33 to finish using the scholarship.
    • Army College Fund
      In addition to the benefits from the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the Army College Fund provides money to cover tuition and training to help recruit service members for critical Military Occupational Specialties. Individuals may enlist in for a three to six year enlistment.
    • Army Continuing Education System
      Members of the Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserves have access to the Army Continuing Education System (ACES). Through ACES soldiers may request educational counseling, get their GED or complete a high school diploma or post-secondary degree program. ACES also provides testing and training related to civilian licensing and certification exams and manages the Army aptitude test.
    • Army Career and Alumni Program
      The Army Career and Alumni Program provides job placement services and counseling to help soldiers transitioning from active duty to civilian life. Program offices are located on military installations.

Additional Veteran Benefits Resources

Find veterans benefits offered by each state. Did you know that state, city, and community programs also offer a range of veteran benefits and programs for qualifying vets and their families?

City Websites, Chambers of Commerce Sites

Searching for veteran benefits by city can be a bit more challenging than searching for state resources. There are no real standardized templates for city sites, and you may find no help on one type of official site, while finding a large number of resources on a different city-specific resource.

It’s best to begin your search by checking the official page of your city, village, township, etc. If you have no luck there, try searching for veteran benefits on your local Chamber Of Commerce official site. While you’re at it, be sure to have a look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce site for information on national programs such as Hire Our Heroes.

The U.S. Department Of Labor

This government agency offers a search tool to help veterans find career help in their local area via the DoL’s CareerOneStop program. You can search for local help from your nearest “American Job Center.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA official site has a by-state list of VA regional offices and state VA offices. Some of these site vary in detail from others, but many include lists of state resources for veterans that include both VA and non-VA benefit programs.

Organizations with Veterans Service Officers:

  • Veterans of  Foreign Wars
  • American Legion
  • Amvets
  • Disabled American Veterans
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America
  • Vietnam Veterans of America
  • Military Order of the Purple Heart

Some benefits are more well-known than others. Many states offer education assistance, housing, and employment programs for veterans. But there may be tax advantages, retirement home options, even business license exemptions available for qualifying veterans, depending on the state.

It’s always good to know as much about your state options as possible-you never know when you might need to apply for these lesser-known programs.

The U.S. Army Official Site offers a very helpful state-by-state clearinghouse of benefits information searchable by clicking on the appropriate state or using a pulldown menu to access information on that state’s education, employment, insurance, and other benefits. You can also find locations to that state’s VA clinics and other VA resources in this one-stop guide.

Examples of Available Veteran Benefits

Housing Benefits

There are the obvious benefits for veterans seeking e.g. VA mortgage home loans from participating lenders all over the United States, but on the state level there are some options that may be of help later in life, such as Arkansas’ state veteran retirement homes.

That benefit is offered to honorably discharged military members with a priority for Arkansas residents. Other programs include Minnesota’s short-term assistance with rent or mortgage payments for qualifying veterans.

These benefits are likely best found via the state’s official site or the state VA regional office official site such as the one for Minnesota.

Finding state-level veterans’ benefits may seem daunting at first. But you’ll discover that getting to know your state’s official site and your state-level Department of Veterans Affairs official site is an excellent way to get caught up on these benefits, future legislation or state planning that might affect them, deadlines for applications, and points of contact in your community for learning more.

Education Benefits

Many states offer some kind of supplemental or replacement education benefit for veterans. In Illinois, a program known as the Illinois Veterans Grant is for qualifying veterans who listed Illinois as their home of record while serving, or who joined the military while living in the state. This program offers full tuition coverage that can be used separately from or in conjunction with the GI Bill.

Other states offer free or reduced tuition for the dependents of military members. California, Alabama, and other states offer such programs, which may be subject to change from year to year due to legislation or budget issues.

One of the best resources you can use to find these education benefits in your state? Your local state college or state university official website. You will find that in most cases, these sites will have specific information on the veteran education assistance programs offered in that state and how to begin.

These are often listed under a heading in the Admissions section. Look for “Paying For College” or “Student Financial Assistance” headings.

Tax Benefits

Some states, including Texas, California, Alabama, and others, offer tax breaks to veterans in the form of exemptions or tax-free income options. Alabama has an exemption on military retirement pay, California offers property tax exemptions to qualifying veterans, etc.

You will find tax exemption information on your state’s official site. It’s not safe to assume that any tax breaks you may be entitled to are automatic. Consider the requirements of the New York State official site which includes the following:

“If you’re an eligible veteran, you must submit the initial exemption application form to your assessor. The deadline in most communities is March 1—please confirm the date with your assessor. Proof of discharge under honorable conditions including times and places served in active duty (usually form DD-214) must be attached to the exemption application”.

Military Financial Support

Service members and their families have access to substantial resources to save money and manage your expenses. Learn more about different military pay and compensation benefits and ways to save and protect your family’s financial health.

Prevent Identity theft and fraud

  • File a complaint on the Consumer Complaint Database at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau if you have an unresolved issue with a company about a financial product or service.
  • The Federal Trade Commission has a website devoted to reporting Identity Theft and getting a recovery plan.
  • Federal law entitles you to a free credit report each year. Check it for suspicious activity. If you’re a deploying service member and don’t plan to seek new credit while deployed, place an active-duty alert to reduce the risk of getting swindled.
  • Monitor your credit report for signs of identity theft—especially if you’ve lost important papers. All Americans are eligible for a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
  • Check out the Task Force on Market Integrity and Consumer Fraud for more information on scams that target the military.

Help with taxes

  • Military OneSource provides free tax preparation and filing services and tax consultations.
  • If you prefer a face-to-face meeting with a military tax consultant, the military-based Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program provides no-cost tax advice and preparation, return filing and other tax assistance to military members and their families. Find a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance location near you.
  • Learn more about free tax services available through Military OneSource.
  • The IRS has a detailed Armed Forces’ Tax Guide.
  • Earned Income Tax Credits are federal income tax credits for low- and moderate-income working individuals and families. The refundable credit can generate a refund if you do not have any taxes to pay. Service members and families may have an easier time qualifying for the credit because some military income, such as pay earned during service in a combat zone or basic allowances for housing, are non-taxable and are not included in an individual’s or family’s total income.

More ways to save and take control of your finances

About to make a purchase? Or want to pay off your debt? Saving for college? Use a financial calculator to help manage your money. Better yet, meet with a personal financial counselor for free to discuss any money matter.

  • The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act also provides service members with a range of rights and benefits, from interest rate reductions to eviction protection. Know your rights and available perks.
  • Achieve everyday savings by shopping at your military installation’s commissary and exchange. Shoppers typically save more than 30 percent compared to shopping in town.
  • Check out, which houses information on the wide range of benefits available to active-duty military and veterans. A go-to resource for all service members and families, it has information on interest rate reductions, tax benefits, educational and medical benefits, and many other benefits you’re entitled to.

Need help after a natural disaster? Find assistance via:

  • helps you search for disaster relief by the type of assistance you need or by federal agency.
  • The American Red Cross provides disaster recovery information and specific tips for coping with different kinds of disasters, including fires, hurricanes, floods and winter storms.

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 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 & 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, 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.

Veteran ID Card: Is it worth it?

In case you haven’t heard, the Department of Veterans Affairs is offering veterans a free ID card which can be used to prove your veteran status when needed at businesses and other locations.

The free ID card, which originally rolled-out in late November, was ordered by Congress in 2015 as a way to give veterans proof of service at businesses without carrying a copy of their DD-214 forms. It is available for all honorably discharged veterans, regardless of era or time in service.

Veterans who are enrolled in the VA healthcare system already have a VA issued ID card, but that leaves the majority of veterans without any valid proof of service that may be required to get special benefits from private firms.

How Do You Get the Veterans ID Card?

Getting the card is actually pretty easy, at least as easy as dealing with the VA can be. It took me about 15 minutes to log on to VETS.GOV, create an account, enter my service data, and upload a selfie that I took with my phone. Of course, I did this back in November when the program started and had several issues with the website freezing up. According to the VA, those problems have been fixed.

Although I applied in three months ago I still haven’t gotten my card, but the website will let you download and print out a paper copy of the card if you want to.

Why Get The VA ID Card?

Let’s face it, most of us never got a ticker-tape parade when we came home and we didn’t get told “thank you for your service” on a regular basis, in fact many of us were looked down upon by our fellow citizens.

This card helps to fix that problem. Historically there hasn’t been a better time to be a veteran. If you want a discount at the store, a free meal, a special parking space, special benefits from the state or local government this is the time for you.

Now, before you harrumph and say that those benefits are pretty worthless and tacky for all you did, let me just say that most of us didn’t join the military to get heaped in praise by our fellow citizens. Most of us got three hots and a cot and paid every two weeks, and that is all we asked for.

What Will The VA ID Card Do For Me?

While the card won’t necessarily get you any new federal or state benefits it will possibly get you some special little perks like free meals on veterans day, parking spots closer to the door, and discounts at many retailers.

If big companies want to give me a parking spot close to the grocery store entrance, a free meal every now and then, a discount when I buy furnace filters, or a few thousand bucks off a new car I’ll take it. Heck, I’m even going to make sure my new bright shiny veteran card is right under my driver’s license so if I get pulled over for speeding the nice officer can see I’m a veteran, it never hurts to try.

Having this veterans ID card ready to show anybody who gives me a sideways look when I park right next to the handicapped and expectant mothers spots makes me feel good (especially when it is cold or raining). It kind of makes up for all those late night watches and dress formations. I feel like I’m finally getting a little respect for my service, and I get it every day – not once a year.

My advice? Get the card. It never hurts to accept a little bit of gratitude when it is offered, you never know when it will come again.