A new guide for veterans, their families on benefits

Your Money


If you're a veteran or in the military now, you may not know about all the benefits you're entitled to.

Even if you do, gobbledygook could stop you like a tank. Pick up a government publication and you might need a translator. It's tedious work, and time-consuming, and you might just want to forget the whole thing.

Don't despair. There's a load of practical help for you in print and on the Internet, especially with the heightened awareness of the military that comes with the war in Iraq and global fight against terror.

One new addition that aims to make your search for answers easier is a book from Military.com called The Military Advantage: A Comprehensive Guide to Your Military & Veterans Benefits (Simon & Schuster, $20).

The 400-page paperback is the work of Christopher P. Michel, founder and president of Military.com, who said it has more details than what's posted on the company's Web site.

This book is good for browsing. Here's a glimpse of what you can learn from it and Military.com:

VA home loans

Home loans through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs aren't always the best way to go. You might be able to land a conventional home loan with a lower interest rate. Do your homework.

If you're a veteran with permanent and total service-connected disabilities, you might be able to obtain a VA Specially Adapted Housing Program grant for up to $50,000. You'd use the money to adapt a house to your needs.

Are you a veteran with a VA-rated disability of 10 percent or higher? If so, your VA loan fees could be waived. That could save you thousands of dollars in loan origination fees.

Retired pay

The government offers a pension, with benefits, when you retire from the military. There are three military retirement systems. If you have a choice, how do you pick the best plan for your situation? Use the U.S. Department of Defense retirement calculators at www.dod.mil/militarypay/retirement/calc.

Veteran disability pay

If you have limited income and 90 days or more of active military service - including at least one day in wartime - you might be eligible for a veterans' disability pension. Payments would be made to bring your total income, including other retirement or Social Security income, to a level set by Congress.

Health care coverage

Tricare is the health-care program for service members and retirees, along with their families and survivors. To learn about it, you can go on a self-help tutorial at www.tricareu.tricare.osd.mil. For general Tricare information, call 877-363-6337.

If you can, pay your enrollment fee annually, not quarterly. Annual payments mean less chance of a problem with a billing and claims payment.

Save your receipts and you'll end up saving money and avoiding headaches. Keep explanations of benefits, co-payment records and receipts for at least a year. You can deduct many health care expenses from your taxes, and you never know when you might be incorrectly billed.

Don't submit multiple claims bundled together, because a problem with one claim will delay payment on all of them. Send them separately.

VA health care

Veterans are eligible for VA programs, as well as dependents in many cases. The Department of Veterans Affairs is required by law to provide eligible veterans hospital care and outpatient care services that are defined as "needed." The VA defines "needed" as care or services that will promote, preserve and restore health. This includes treatment, procedures, supplies or services. This decision of need is based on the judgment of your health care provider and in accordance with generally accepted standards of clinical practice.

Education benefits

The Reserve GI Bill can provide benefits worth more than $10,000 to help pay for college tuition, books, fees and vocational training or certification expenses.

David Venditta writes for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.

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