If you're an armed forces veteran or in the military now, you probably don't know about all the benefits you're entitled to.
Even if you do, gobbledegook could stop you like a tank. Pick up a government publication and you might need a translator to find whether you're eligible for some of the rewards of service and how to get them.
It's tedious work, and time-consuming, and you might just want to forget the whole thing.
Don't despair. There's a humvee-load of practical help for you in print and on the Internet these days, especially with the heightened awareness of the military that comes with the Iraq war and global fight against terror.
One new addition that aims to make your search for answers easier is a book from the folks at Military.com called "The Military Advantage: A Comprehensive Guide To Your Military & Veterans Benefits."
The oversize, 389-page paperback is the work of Christopher P. Michel, founder and president of Military.com, who says it offers more details than what's posted on his company's Web site. Published by Simon & Schuster, it costs $20.
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 get a conventional home loan with a lower interest rate. Do your homework and find out.
If you're a veteran with permanent and total service-connected disabilities, you might be able to get a VA Specially Adapted Housing grant for up to $50,000. You'd use the money to adapt a house so it meets 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.
Earned a Medal of Honor? You could get a monthly veterans pension of $1,027.
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 service that will promote, preserve, and restore health. This includes treatment, procedures, supplies or services. This decision of need is on the judgment of your health care provider and in accordance with generally accepted standards of clinical practice.
There are also health programs you may be eligible for, including treatment for blindness rehabilitation, Agent Orange exposure and HIV/AIDS.
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. With the current billing system, there's less chance of a problem with a billing and claims payment if you pay annually.
Save your receipts, and you'll end up saving money and avoiding headaches. Keep all receipts, Explanation of Benefits and copayment records 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.
Military benefits made easy
Book among resources that help veterans and service people.
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