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A concise guide that explains the various programs available to veterans and their families. Helps you properly file applications, claims, and appeals. Benefitting from benefits -- A healthy look at medical care and compensation programs -- Understanding education and employment programs -- Home is where the heart is -- except when you're traveling! -- The part of tens
Year:
2009
Publisher:
Wiley Pub
Language:
english
Pages:
388
ISBN 10:
0470398655
ISBN 13:
9780470398654
Series:
-For dummies
File:
PDF, 2.97 MB
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Business/Personal Finance

Want to take full advantage of your military benefits? This
concise, plain-English guide explains the various programs
available to you and your family, and helps you properly
file applications, claims, and appeals. You’ll make sense of
the often-confusing world of the Department of Veterans
Affairs and see exactly how to get the benefits you need
and deserve.
• Understand your status — based on length, type, place, and
period of service, know where you stand as a veteran
• Work with the VA and service offices — evaluate the VA
healthcare program and Tricare, the DOD healthcare system
• Navigate the VA disability compensation and application
process — understand disability ratings and available programs
including CRSC
• Find your way home — use a low-interest loan to finance your
dream house or retire gracefully in a military home

Open the book and find:
• Whether you meet basic
qualifications for veterans
• How to change your discharge
status
• The lowdown on pensions and
retirement pay
• Ways the new G.I. Bill affects
servicemen and women
• Clear explanations of medical and
dental benefits
• The pros and cons of the VA home
loan
• Financial planning tips
• Help for homeless veterans

Veterans Benefits

Meet eligibility requirements,
gather the right documents, and
earn the benefits due you

g Easier!
Making Everythin

™

s
t
i
f
e
n
e
B
s
n
a
r
e
t
e
V

• Travel in style — take advantage of military aircraft and lodging
around the world
• Carry on in memory — discover payments and benefits available
to spouses and dependent children of deceased veterans and
how to request honors and memorials

Learn to:
Go to dummies.com
for more!
®

• Save time and cut through the red tape
• Navigate the VA healthcare system
• Take advantage of educational
opportunities
• Claim disability benefits

$19.99 US / $23.99 CN / £13.99 UK

Rod Powers is a recognized expert in all U.S. military matters. A military
author, his articles have appeared in numerous military and civilian
public; ations. Powers is the co-author of the successful ASVAB For Dummies,
2nd Edition, and serves as a military guide for About.com.

ISBN 978-0-470-39865-4

Rod Powers
Powers

Retired Air Force First Sergeant

Veterans Benefits
FOR

DUMmIES

‰

by Rod Powers

Veterans Benefits For Dummies®
Published by
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
111 River St.
Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774
www.wiley.com
Copyright © 2009 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Published by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Published simultaneously in Canada
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as
permitted under Sections 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior
written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to
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Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Permissions Department, John Wiley
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All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Wiley Publishing, Inc., is not associated
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2008943502
ISBN: 978-0-470-39865-4
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

About the Author
Rod Powers joined the U.S. Air Force in 1975 intending to become a spy. He
was devastated to learn that he should’ve joined the CIA instead because the
military doesn’t have that particular enlisted job. Regardless, he fell in love
with the military and made it both a passion and a career, retiring with 23
years of service. Rod spent 11 of those years as a first sergeant, helping to
solve the problems of the enlisted corps.
During Rod’s military career, he traveled the world — twice. He’s been
assigned or deployed to so many countries that he doesn’t even remember
them all. He’s a veteran of the Korea “Tree War,” Grenada, Desert Shield,
and Desert Storm. He’s a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Leadership
School, the Noncommissioned Officer Academy, the Senior Noncommissioned
Officer Academy, and the Air Force First Sergeant Academy.
Since his retirement from the military in 1998, Rod has become a worldrenowned military careers expert. Through hundreds of articles on his highly
popular U.S. Military Information Web site at About.com (usmilitary.
about.com), Rod has advised thousands of troops about all aspects of U.S.
armed forces careers. Veteran Benefits For Dummies is his third military-related
book. One of his other books, ASVAB For Dummies, was published by Wiley.
Rod is the proud single-parent father of twin girls, both of whom enjoy successful careers in the U.S. Air Force. Rod currently lives in Daytona Beach,
Florida, where he gratefully enjoys the devoted attentions of his girlfriend,
Jackie, and his pet tomato plant, Oscar. Even today, Rod tries to run his life
according to long-lived military ideals and standards, but he gets a bit confused about why nobody will obey his orders anymore. Not even Oscar.

Dedication
To Charisa Raine Lindsy, an angel with Angelman Syndrome, who has won a
special place in my heart. To get more facts about this devastating genetic
condition and find out how you can help, visit the Angelman Syndrome
Foundation at www.angelman.org.

Author’s Acknowledgments
First and foremost, I offer my most sincere gratitude, appreciation, and
respect to our nation’s veterans. Without your sacrifices, dedication, and loyalty to our country, this book, nor any freedom of expression, would not be
possible.
Many thanks to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of
Defense for their invaluable information and assistance. Special thanks to
Scott Langhoff for reviewing the manuscript for technical accuracy and keeping me informed on the latest changes to veterans benefits.
I am grateful to Barb Doyan, my literary agent, for her encouragement, support, and hard work in getting this project off the ground. Thanks to Mike
Baker, acquisition editor at Wiley, and likewise to my project and copy editors, Natalie Harris and Vicki Adang, both editors par excellence. Their contributions to this book cannot be overstated.
Finally, to my girlfriend, Jackie Gatton, who stuck with me and had faith in
me, even when I sometimes had to break a date to meet a deadline.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments
We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at http://dummies.custhelp.com. For other comments, please contact our
Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax
317-572-4002.
Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:
Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media
Development
Project Editor: Natalie Faye Harris

Composition Services
Project Coordinator: Erin Smith

Senior Copy Editor: Victoria M. Adang

Layout and Graphics: Reuben W. Davis,
Melissa K. Jester, Christin Swinford,
Christine Williams

Assistant Editor: Erin Calligan Mooney

Proofreaders: Laura Bowman, Caitie Kelly

Editorial Program Coordinator: Joe Niesen

Indexer: Broccoli Information Management

Acquisitions Editor: Mike Baker

General Reviewer:
Scott H. Langhoff, CPO USN (Retired)
Editorial Manager: Christine Meloy Beck
Editorial Assistants: Jennette ElNaggar,
David Lutton
Cover Photos: Thinkstock Images
Cartoons: Rich Tennant
(www.the5thwave.com)

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies
Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies
Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies
Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel
Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel
Publishing for Technology Dummies
Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User
Composition Services
Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services
Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services

Contents at a Glance
Introduction ................................................................ 1
Par t I: Benefit ting From Benefits .................................. 7
Chapter 1: The Wonderful World of Veterans Benefits................................................. 9
Chapter 2: Determining Veteran Status and Qualifying for Benefits ......................... 17
Chapter 3: Navigating Your Way through the Red Tape of Claims and Appeals ..... 35

Par t II: A Healthy Look at Medical Care
and Compensation Programs ....................................... 55
Chapter 4: Veterans Affairs Healthcare ........................................................................ 57
Chapter 5: Tricare: The Military’s Health Insurance ................................................... 79
Chapter 6: Disability Compensation and Pensions ..................................................... 93
Chapter 7: Getting Your Military Retirement Pay ...................................................... 115
Chapter 8: Carrying On: Payments and Benefits for Survivors ................................ 129
Chapter 9: Burial and Memorial Benefits .................................................................... 149

Par t III: Understanding Education
and Employment Programs ....................................... 169
Chapter 10: Advancing Your Education through the GI Bill..................................... 171
Chapter 11: Aid and Vocational Training for Disabled and Homeless Veterans ...... 195
Chapter 12: Veterans’ Job Preference & Small Business Loans............................... 211

Par t IV: Home Is Where the Hear t Is —
Except When You’re Traveling! .................................. 225
Chapter 13: Financing Your Dream House: VA Home Loan Guarantees ................. 227
Chapter 14: There’s No Place Like (A Military Retirement) Home ......................... 237
Chapter 15: Shopping Until You Drop ......................................................................... 251
Chapter 16: Things to Do, Places to See: Travel Benefi ts ......................................... 265

Par t V: The Par t of Tens ........................................... 287
Chapter 17: Ten Places to Get Help with Veterans Benefits..................................... 289
Chapter 18: Ten T ips for Avoiding Problems with Your VA Benefit Claims .......... 295
Chapter 19: Ten T ips for Traveling via the Military .................................................. 299

Par t VI: Appendixes ................................................. 303
Index ...................................................................... 357

Table of Contents
Introduction ................................................................. 1
About This Book .............................................................................................. 2
Conventions Used in This Book ..................................................................... 2
What You’re Not to Read ................................................................................ 3
Foolish Assumptions ....................................................................................... 3
How This Book Is Organized .......................................................................... 3
Part I: Benefiting from Benefits ............................................................ 3
Part II: A Healthy Look at Medical Care
and Compensation Programs ........................................................... 4
Part III: Understanding Education and Employment Programs ....... 4
Part IV: Home Is Where the Heart Is —
Except When You’re Traveling! ........................................................ 4
Part V: The Part of Tens ........................................................................ 5
Part VI: Appendixes ............................................................................... 5
Icons Used in This Book ................................................................................. 5
Where to Go from Here ................................................................................... 6

Par t I: Benefit ing From Benefits .................................... 7
Chapter 1: The Wonderful World of Veterans Benefits . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Getting Familiar with the Benefits You Deserve ........................................ 10
Breaking Down Your Benefits ...................................................................... 11
Meeting your healthcare needs ......................................................... 12
Pocketing a monthly check................................................................. 13
Sometimes old soldiers do die: Memorial
benefits and taking care of survivors ............................................ 14
Getting educated about education benefits ..................................... 14
Take this job and . . . well, just take this job .................................... 15
There’s no place like home................................................................. 15
Shopping and sight-seeing .................................................................. 16

Chapter 2: Determining Veteran Status and
Qualifying for Benefits. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
What Is a Veteran? The Legal Definition ..................................................... 18
Understanding the Difference between Types of Military Service .......... 19
Full-time warriors................................................................................. 19
Weekend warriors ................................................................................ 19
Active Guard/Reserves........................................................................ 21
Individual Ready Reserve ................................................................... 21

viii

Veterans Benefits For Dummies
Digging into the Details: Other Considerations for Benefits .................... 22
Length of service.................................................................................. 22
Where and when you served .............................................................. 25
Service discharges ............................................................................... 25
Changing your discharge .................................................................... 29
Service Records: Proving Your Eligibility................................................... 30
DD Forms 214 and 215 ......................................................................... 30
NGB Forms 22 and 22A ........................................................................ 32
Military medical records ..................................................................... 32
Protecting Your Paperwork.......................................................................... 33

Chapter 3: Navigating Your Way through
the Red Tape of Claims and Appeals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35
Meeting the Two Main Benefits Agencies ................................................... 36
The Department of Veterans Affairs .................................................. 36
The Department of Defense and military services .......................... 37
Double-Checking Your Documentation and Eligibility ............................. 38
Collecting your documents ................................................................ 39
Using the VA’s “duty to assist” .......................................................... 40
Submitting Your VA Claim ............................................................................ 41
Playing the Waiting Game: The Big Decision ............................................. 42
Fixing Errors in Your Military Record ......................................................... 43
Knowing the grounds for requesting a change ................................ 43
Submitting the proper paperwork ..................................................... 44
Providing evidence is important! ....................................................... 44
Understanding the advisory opinion................................................. 44
Do You Need a Lawyer or Additional Help? ............................................... 45
Deciding to Appeal ........................................................................................ 46
Getting the appeals process rolling................................................... 47
Receiving a thumbs up or thumbs down .......................................... 47
Preparing to send your appeal up the chain .................................... 47
Getting on with the appeal ................................................................. 49
Trying to speed up the waiting game ................................................ 50
Making your case at a board hearing ................................................ 50
Bracing yourself for the ultimate decision ....................................... 51
When All Else Fails: Appealing the Appeal ................................................. 52
Motion to reconsider ........................................................................... 52
Reopening an appeal ........................................................................... 53
U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ....................................... 53

Par t II: A Healthy Look at Medical Care
and Compensation Programs........................................ 55
Chapter 4: Veterans Affairs Healthcare . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .57
Medical Benefits Package: The Backbone of the System.......................... 58
What’s covered .................................................................................... 58
What’s not covered.............................................................................. 59

Table of Contents
Military sexual trauma counseling .................................................... 60
Bereavement counseling ..................................................................... 60
Assistance for blind veterans ............................................................. 60
Prosthetics and adaptive automobiles ............................................. 61
Taking care of your smile: VA dental care ........................................ 62
All the better to see and hear you with: Eyes and ears .................. 63
Getting your meds from VA pharmacies........................................... 63
Emergency care in non-VA facilities .................................................. 64
VA Medical Care Eligibility and Enrollment ............................................... 65
Minimum service requirements ......................................................... 66
Make sure you join the right group! .................................................. 66
Making your case for VA medical care.............................................. 70
Not everyone is required to enroll .................................................... 70
Making your first appointment .......................................................... 71
Seeking Extended Care.................................................................................. 71
Addressing Financial Concerns ................................................................... 73
Travel reimbursement......................................................................... 74
Co-pays for medical care .................................................................... 74
Co-pays for extended care .................................................................. 75
Co-pay for VA medications ................................................................. 76
Using private health insurance .......................................................... 76
Dealing with VA income limits ........................................................... 77

Chapter 5: Tricare: The Military’s Health Insurance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .79
Tricare: Pick a Plan, Any Plan ...................................................................... 80
Tricare Prime: An HMO by another name ........................................ 80
Tricare Extra: When an HMO just won’t do ...................................... 81
Tricare Standard: A little more cost
equals much more freedom ............................................................ 81
Tricare for Life: Medicare plus Tricare equals free care ................ 82
Checking Your Tricare Eligibility ................................................................ 83
Enrolling in DEERS ......................................................................................... 84
Getting Your Medication .............................................................................. 84
Meds on military bases ....................................................................... 85
Choosing your own pharmacy ........................................................... 85
Mail-order pharmacy: The med’s in the mail ................................... 86
How Much Does All of This Cost?................................................................ 86
Looking at the plans’ costs side by side ........................................... 86
Costs of services under Tricare for Life............................................ 88
Catastrophic cap .................................................................................. 88
What Isn’t Covered by Tricare? ................................................................... 88
Using Tricare Overseas................................................................................. 89
Smiling about Dental Care ............................................................................ 89
Counting the costs ............................................................................... 90
Using a desirable dentist .................................................................... 90
Covering your coverage ...................................................................... 90
Using dental benefits overseas .......................................................... 92
Looking into Vision Care .............................................................................. 92

ix

x

Veterans Benefits For Dummies
Chapter 6: Disability Compensation and Pensions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .93
Checking Your Eligibility for Disability Compensation ............................ 93
Establishing the service connection ................................................. 94
Making a presumptive service connection ....................................... 95
Determining your disability rating .................................................... 97
How Much Is Your Disability Compensation?.......................................... 102
Figuring monthly rates ...................................................................... 102
Special monthly compensation ........................................................ 105
Concurrent receipt: Military retired pay
and disability compensation ........................................................ 106
Combat-Related Special Compensation .......................................... 106
Updating Your Home to Accommodate Your Disability......................... 107
Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant ......................................... 108
Special Home Adaptation (SHA) grant ............................................ 109
Temporary Residence Adaptation (TRA) grant ............................. 109
Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant .... 109
Clothing Allowance: Replacing Your Wardrobe ...................................... 110
Looking into VA Pensions ........................................................................... 110
Counting your income ....................................................................... 111
Receiving payment ............................................................................ 112
Medal of Honor pensions .................................................................. 112
Applying in All the Right Places................................................................. 112
VA disability compensation or pension .......................................... 113
Combat-Related Special Compensation .......................................... 113
Adaptive housing grants ................................................................... 114
Clothing allowance ............................................................................ 114

Chapter 7: Getting Your Military Retirement Pay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .115
Understanding Retainer versus Retired ................................................... 116
Becoming “unretired:” Recall to active duty .................................. 116
Retirement versus discharge ........................................................... 117
Figuring Out Your Retirement Pay ............................................................ 117
Calculating active-duty retirement .................................................. 118
Computing reserve retirement points and pay .............................. 119
The High 36 Retirement Program .................................................... 121
Is it taxable? ........................................................................................ 122
How retired pay fits with Social Security
and other money matters.............................................................. 122
Taking the bonus ............................................................................... 123
Getting a yearly pay raise ................................................................. 124
Getting a Handle on Medical Retirement .................................................. 124
Medical evaluation boards ............................................................... 124
Types of disposition .......................................................................... 125
Medical retirement pay compensation ........................................... 127
Divorce and Its Effects on Military Retirement Pay ................................ 127
Keeping DFAS Up-to-Date............................................................................ 128

Table of Contents
Chapter 8: Carrying On: Payments and Benefits for Survivors. . . . . .129
Ensuring the Family Future: Veterans Life Insurance Programs ........... 129
Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) .............................. 130
Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (TSGLI) ........ 130
Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) ............... 131
Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) ........................................... 131
Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI)................................ 132
Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) ..................................... 133
Survivor Benefit Program (SBP)....................................................... 133
Filing a life insurance claim .............................................................. 134
Understanding Death Pensions ................................................................. 135
Checking the rates and income limits ............................................. 136
Deciphering your countable income ............................................... 137
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) ................................... 137
Payment rates and income limits for DIC ....................................... 139
Applying for DIC ................................................................................. 140
Making Use of Education Benefits ............................................................. 140
How much does the VA pay? ............................................................ 141
Expiration of benefits ........................................................................ 143
VA Medical Care for Your Family .............................................................. 143
Deductibles and co-pay ..................................................................... 144
Understanding how medical providers work with CHAMPVA ..... 145
Covering your medication ................................................................ 146
Submitting claims .............................................................................. 147
Home Loan Guarantees............................................................................... 148

Chapter 9: Burial and Memorial Benefits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .149
Eligibility for Military Burial ....................................................................... 150
Meeting conditions for burial expenses.......................................... 150
Getting into Arlington ........................................................................ 151
A Final Place to Rest: Selecting a Cemetery ............................................. 152
Who can be buried where? ............................................................... 152
National Park Service cemeteries .................................................... 153
Arlington National Cemetery: A special case ................................. 154
What the VA Does and Doesn’t Cover ...................................................... 155
What the VA doesn’t cover ............................................................... 155
How much does the VA pay? ............................................................ 156
Furnishing markers and headstones ............................................... 156
Providing presidential memorial certificates ................................. 158
Receiving a burial flag ....................................................................... 159
Giving a Final Salute with Military Funeral Honors ................................. 159
Meeting military honor guards ........................................................ 160
Knowing what honors are provided ................................................ 161
Arranging Military Funerals ....................................................................... 162
Seeking reimbursement for private funeral expenses .................. 163
Setting up military funeral honors ................................................... 163

xi

xii

Veterans Benefits For Dummies
Applying for Arlington ....................................................................... 166
Obtaining markers and headstones ................................................ 167
Requesting a presidential memorial certificate ............................. 167
Obtaining a burial flag ....................................................................... 168

Par t III: Understanding Education
and Employment Programs ........................................ 169
Chapter 10: Advancing Your Education through the GI Bill . . . . . . . .171
Getting Cash for College: The Active-Duty GI Bill .................................... 172
Doing the time and double-checking
other eligibility requirements....................................................... 172
Knowing your costs: This isn’t a free deal! ..................................... 176
Using the program while still in the military: Not a good deal .... 180
Transferring your benefits ................................................................ 181
GI Bills aren’t forever: Expiration of benefits ................................. 182
The Selected Reserve Montgomery GI Bill: A Free Cash Cow ................ 182
Eligibility: Who can play on this ball field? ..................................... 183
Rates: Pays less, but heck, it’s free .................................................. 184
Patience, Grasshopper: When you can start
using the benefits ........................................................................... 185
Converting to the Active-Duty GI Bill .............................................. 186
When time runs out: Expiration of benefits.................................... 186
The GI Bill of the 21st Century ................................................................... 187
Claiming what’s yours: Eligibility..................................................... 187
No more contributions ...................................................................... 188
Converting to the new GI Bill............................................................ 188
Entitlements: More cash for college ................................................ 189
More time to use the benefits .......................................................... 190
The GI Bill Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Where You Can Use It............ 190
Dual Duty: Combining the GI Bills ............................................................. 192
Get That Cap and Gown Ready: Applying for the Benefits ..................... 193

Chapter 11: Aid and Vocational Training
for Disabled and Homeless Veterans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .195
The Chapter 31 Program: What It Offers .................................................. 196
Examining Your Eligibility for Chapter 31 ................................................ 197
Meeting the basic requirements ...................................................... 197
Knowing what you’re entitled to...................................................... 197
Footing the Bill: What the VA Pays For ..................................................... 198
Monthly subsistence allowance rates ............................................. 199
Buckling down and participating in a VA work-study program ..... 202
Applying for Chapter 31 Benefits............................................................... 203
Using Benefits Beyond Education and Training ...................................... 203
Giving Homeless Veterans a Helping Hand .............................................. 204
The grant and per diem program .................................................... 206
Stand Downs for homeless veterans ............................................... 207

Table of Contents
Veterans industry: Group homes..................................................... 208
Drop-in centers................................................................................... 208
Donations of excess government property .................................... 209
Foreclosure help and prevention .................................................... 209
The Residential Rehabilitation and Treatment Program .............. 210

Chapter 12: Veterans’ Job Preference & Small Business Loans. . . .211
Veterans’ Preference: A Leg Up for Federal Jobs .................................... 212
Why veterans get preference ........................................................... 212
Qualifying: The veterans’ preference point system ...................... 212
Finding and filling federal jobs ......................................................... 216
Veterans Recruitment Appointment ............................................... 218
Patriot Express Veterans Small Business Loans ..................................... 220
The SBA definition of a small business ........................................... 221
Borrowing up to a half a million bucks! .......................................... 221
Checking your eligibility ................................................................... 222
Making your business plan ............................................................... 222
Finding a lender.................................................................................. 223

Par t IV: Home Is Where the Hear t Is —
Except When You’re Traveling! .................................. 225
Chapter 13: Financing Your Dream House: VA Home
Loan Guarantees. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .227
It’s Not a Loan, but Guaranteed Financing ............................................... 228
Knowing How Much Uncle Sam Will Guarantee ...................................... 229
Military Service Requirements for a VA Home Loan............................... 230
Using the VA Home Loan Program, Step by Step .................................... 232
Before You Sign up: VA Home Loan Restrictions .................................... 234

Chapter 14: There’s No Place Like
(A Military Retirement) Home . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .237
Moving In: Do You Qualify? ........................................................................ 238
Two Homes, No Waiting ............................................................................. 240
Gulfport: Whacked by a Hurricane, but on the Road to Recovery........ 241
Visiting the Washington Campus .............................................................. 242
Living the high life in retirement ..................................................... 242
Going out and about: Cars and transportation .............................. 246
Getting there ....................................................................................... 246
Paying for Your New Home ........................................................................ 247
Examining Your Healthcare Options......................................................... 248
Staying on campus for treatment .................................................... 248
Going off campus for care ................................................................. 248
Factoring in medical insurance ........................................................ 249

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What Are You Waiting For? Apply Now! ................................................... 249
Gathering the required documents ................................................. 249
Obtaining a medical physical ........................................................... 250
Completing your application ............................................................ 250

Chapter 15: Shopping Until You Drop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .251
Getting Familiar with the Military Exchange System .............................. 251
Saving money at BXs, PXs, and other Xs ........................................ 252
Feasting at eating establishments ................................................... 256
Shave and a haircut, and dental care, too! ..................................... 256
Military clothing: Getting your uniform ready for the parade ..... 256
Gassing up at military gas stations .................................................. 257
Locating the liquor ............................................................................ 257
Taking in a movie at the base theater ............................................. 258
Commissaries: The Military Supermarket ................................................ 258
Substantial savings on groceries ..................................................... 259
Bragging about bagging..................................................................... 259
Online grocery shopping? ................................................................. 259
Qualifying for ID Cards ................................................................................ 260
Exceptions for former spouses ........................................................ 261
Surviving family members ................................................................ 261
Other authorized shoppers .............................................................. 262
How to Apply for Your ID Card .................................................................. 263
Signing on the dotted line ................................................................. 263
What if you can’t travel? ................................................................... 264

Chapter 16: Things to Do, Places to See: Travel Benefi ts. . . . . . . . . .265
Leaving on a Jet Plane: Military Space Available (Space-A) Travel....... 266
Checking in: Are you eligible to fly the friendly skies? ................. 267
Choosing a destination...................................................................... 269
Waiting on the waiting list ................................................................ 269
Finding a military air terminal and signing up for travel .............. 270
Take a number: Priority travel categories ...................................... 273
Calling all flights! Securing available seats ..................................... 275
Getting back home again................................................................... 276
Packing right by packing light .......................................................... 276
Establishing a rigid policy of flexibility ........................................... 277
Sleeping Cheaply at Military Lodging ....................................................... 278
Checking in on your eligibility ......................................................... 278
Facility types and their rates............................................................ 278
Reserving your right to rest ............................................................. 279
Getting Some R&R at Armed Forces Resorts ........................................... 281
Cape Henry Inn and Beach Club ...................................................... 282
Shades of Green at Disney World .................................................... 282
Hale Koa in Hawaii ............................................................................. 283
Edelweiss in Germany ....................................................................... 283
Dragon Hill in South Korea ............................................................... 284

Table of Contents
Going Condo-Crazy with the Armed Forces Vacation Club ................... 284
If you’ve got the time, they’ve got the place .................................. 285
Claiming your condo ......................................................................... 285

Par t V: The Par t of Tens ............................................ 287
Chapter 17: Ten Places to Get Help with Veterans Benefits . . . . . . .289
American Legion .......................................................................................... 289
Defense Finance & Accounting Center...................................................... 290
Disabled American Veterans ...................................................................... 290
National Veterans Legal Services Program .............................................. 291
Noncommissioned Officers Association ................................................... 291
State Veterans Offices ................................................................................. 292
VA Regional Centers and Vet Centers ....................................................... 292
Veterans Representatives on College Campuses .................................... 293
Veterans of Foreign Wars ........................................................................... 293
Vietnam Veterans of America .................................................................... 294

Chapter 18: Ten T ips for Avoiding Problems
with Your VA Benefit Claims . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .295
Don’t Try to Go It Alone .............................................................................. 295
Read the Instructions Carefully ................................................................. 296
Answer All the Questions ........................................................................... 296
Include Only Relevant Information ........................................................... 296
Use Your Claim Number ............................................................................. 297
Keep the VA Informed ................................................................................. 297
Meet the Time Limits .................................................................................. 297
Read VA Correspondence Carefully .......................................................... 298
Establish a Filing System ............................................................................ 298
Keep Your Appointments ........................................................................... 298

Chapter 19: Ten T ips for Traveling via the Military . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .299
Choose Your Departure Terminal with Forethought .............................. 299
Time Your Travel Wisely ............................................................................ 300
Sign Up from the Comfort of Home ........................................................... 300
Plan for Flexibility........................................................................................ 300
Double-Check Your Travel Documents .................................................... 300
Pack Lightly .................................................................................................. 301
Arrive Ready to Go ...................................................................................... 301
Be Financially Prepared .............................................................................. 302
Purchase an In-Flight Meal ......................................................................... 302
Sign Up Immediately on Arrival for Your Return Flight .......................... 302

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Veterans Benefits For Dummies

Par t VI: Appendixes .................................................. 303
Appendix A: Contacts for State & U.S. Territory
Veterans Benefits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .305
Appendix B: VA Regional Benefits Offices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .311
Appendix C: VA Medical Centers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .317
Appendix D: Veterans Centers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .331
Appendix E: National Cemeteries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .347

Index ....................................................................... 357

Introduction

I

f you’re reading this book, there’s a very good chance that you’re a military veteran or you have a close friend or family member who is. Perhaps
you’ve always wondered what our nation offers in the way of thanks to those
who have defended our country, or perhaps you want the lowdown on a specific benefit you may have heard about.
Numerous benefits are available to those who have served our country.
There are also many benefits available for family members of such veterans.
However, it can be frustrating to look for information about specific benefits,
including what the benefit is all about and who qualifies for it, when you have
to decipher paragraphs and paragraphs full of government gobbledygook.
You shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer to have a veterans benefit explained to
you in order to figure out whether you qualify. If only there were a single
resource that explained veterans benefits in clear, simple, everyday language.
That’s why I decided to write this book. I’ve spoken to hundreds of veterans
across the country. Although most knew about veterans benefits, many didn’t
believe they qualified for one reason or another, and many others had heard
the horror stories of how the government and the Department of Veterans
Affairs (VA) have screwed up the system so badly that it’s nearly impossible to
apply for benefits.
I won’t lie to you. The VA’s record of benefits administration, in many cases,
has been dismal. At the time of publication of this book, more than 512,000
benefit claims are waiting to be processed, and more than 90,000 benefit
appeals have not yet been decided. Gather together a group of veterans and
ask them to talk about the problems they’ve had when dealing with the VA,
and you may as well get comfortable. They’ll still be talking when the beer
and chips run out.
But there’s good news. Most benefit claims are delayed or denied because the
veteran didn’t fully understand the qualification criteria or failed to provide
the correct documents and supporting evidence. That’s not the veteran’s
fault. Wading through the pages and pages of legal language to find out how
to submit a simple benefit claim can be a daunting task. That’s where Veterans
Benefits For Dummies comes in. I explain each benefit in everyday terms, list
the eligibility requirements, and let you know exactly what forms and supporting documents you need to gather to support your claim for benefits.

2

Veterans Benefits For Dummies

About This Book
The full-disclosure doctrine requires that I inform you that you probably
won’t find any new or secret information in this book. The information I present here is readily available on both the VA and Department of Defense’s
(DOD) massive Web sites, as well as in various federal laws, regulations, and
other publications that are also available on the Internet.
So why should you spend some of your hard-earned money on this book?
Because here you find all this information laid out in one place in a logical
manner, with the details explained in a way that won’t give you a headache.
Veterans Benefits For Dummies will save you loads of time, and think of all the
money you’ll save on aspirin.
I’m not going to waste your time by pointing out what’s wrong with the
system and what I think the government should do to fix it. I leave that to
other authors. My goal is to help you understand the benefits, determine
whether you qualify, and work within the current system so you can get the
benefits you want and deserve.
Although you won’t read anything new here, I can absolutely, 100 percent
fully guarantee that Veterans Benefits For Dummies contains enough valuable
information to hold the covers apart.

Conventions Used in This Book
I include a lot of Web addresses where you can find the necessary forms
to apply for benefits. (You can identify a Web address by its appearance in
monofont.) When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have
needed to break across two lines of text. If that happened, rest assured that I
haven’t put in any extra characters (such as hyphens) to indicate the break.
So when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see
in this book, pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist.
As you move through this book, you may encounter new terms. Wherever
necessary, I define italicized terms for you.

Introduction

What You’re Not to Read
This book has a number of sidebars (the shaded gray boxes) sprinkled
throughout. They’re full of interesting information about benefit(s) described
in that chapter, but you don’t have to read them if you don’t want to. They
don’t contain anything you simply must know about the benefit(s).
You also run across special icons, titled Technical Stuff, from time to time.
These paragraphs include concise, detailed information, which is usually
interesting, but is a little more technical or in-depth about the topic at hand.
You can skip these tidbits if you wish.

Foolish Assumptions
While writing this book, I made a few assumptions about you — namely, who
you are and why you picked up this book. I assume the following:
✓ You aren’t a dummy. You just want information about veterans benefits.
✓ You’re a veteran or the friend or family member of a veteran, and you’re
interested in applying for a specific benefit or group of benefits.
✓ You’re tired of government bureaucratese and prefer your information
in easy-to-take doses.

How This Book Is Organized
There’s a method to my madness, the reason why this book is organized the
way you see it today. I’ve arranged this book according to subject matter.
Benefits relating to pensions and finances are grouped together, benefits
relating to education and employment are grouped together, and so on.

Part I: Benefiting From Benefits
If you’re not sure what a veteran is or whether you meet the basic qualifications for veterans, turn to this part. This part also tells you how to work with
the VA and military service departments, how to gather your supporting
documentation, and what to do if your claim for benefits is denied.

3

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Veterans Benefits For Dummies

Part II: A Healthy Look at Medical Care
and Compensation Programs
In Part II you find out how the DOD and the VA can take care of your medical
needs and your pocketbook after your discharge or retirement from the U.S.
military. You can read about the VA healthcare program, available to most
veterans, and the DOD healthcare system, known as Tricare, for military
retirees and their family members. You also get the lowdown on pensions for
low-income veterans, compensation for disabilities, and military retired pay.
There’s also information for families of deceased veterans, regarding survivor
compensation, education, insurance, and medical programs, and how they
can lay their loved ones to rest with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Part III: Understanding Education
and Employment Programs
A free education is a terrible thing to waste. Part III explains how you can
take full advantage of education programs available to veterans. Not only can
you get a free college degree, but you may qualify for special vocational training programs available to certain disabled veterans.
After you’ve earned a degree or completed a training program, it’s time to
enter the real world and earn a living. Many veterans qualify for special preference when applying for federal government jobs, so Part III also explains
what you need to do to qualify for one of these positions. If you’d rather work
for yourself, you can obtain a small business loan guarantee from the Small
Business Administration.

Part IV: Home Is Where the Heart Is —
Except When You’re Traveling!
This part tells you how the VA can help you get a low-interest loan to finance
your dream house. It also informs you about services available to homeless
veterans, and I outline how you can spend your golden years in a garden-spot
military retirement home.
Also included in Part IV is valuable information about shopping on military
bases and how you can spend your next vacation in a luxury condo or vacation resort available only to military members, certain veterans, and their
family members. Part IV even tells you whether you qualify to fly around the
world for free on military aircraft.

Introduction

Part V: The Part of Tens
It wouldn’t be a For Dummies book if I didn’t include a Part of Tens. If you
want to get right down to it and find out where you can get help with veteran benefits, turn to Part V. I give you a list of organizations that can assist
you on your benefits crusade. This part also has tips about improving your
chances of getting your claim approved and some pointers for traveling on
the military’s dime.

Part VI: Appendixes
Here you find contact information for state veterans offices, VA medical centers, cemeteries, vet centers, and regional offices.

Icons Used in This Book
Throughout this book I’ve added icons to help you use the material to your
best advantage. Here’s a rundown on what they mean:
This icon alerts you to helpful hints regarding the subject at hand. Tips can
help you save time and avoid frustration.

This icon reminds you of important information you should read carefully.
This icon flags information that may prove hazardous to your plan of applying for a specific benefit. Often this icon accompanies common mistakes
people make when applying for a veterans benefit. Pay special attention to the
Warning icon so you don’t fall into one of these pitfalls.
This icon points out information that is interesting, enlightening, or in-depth
but isn’t necessary for you to read. You don’t need this information to understand or apply for a benefit, but knowing these facts may make you a better
informed applicant.

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Veterans Benefits For Dummies

Where to Go from Here
You don’t have to read this book from cover to cover to understand and
apply for veterans benefits. You may be interested in a specific benefit, or
only a few of the benefits. If so, feel free to read only those chapters that
apply to the benefit(s) you’re interested in.
If you decide to skip around, look over the table of contents and choose your
favorite benefit. You’ll find all the information you need to know about that
benefit in the chapter indicated.
Before applying for a benefit, however, I do recommend that you read Chapters
2 and 3. These chapters provide invaluable information about ensuring your
eligibility status and getting your supporting documentation in order.
No matter where you start, I wish you all the best in getting the benefits
you’ve earned. Thank you, from a fellow veteran, for your sacrifice and
dedication to our country.

Part I

Benefiting From
Benefits

I

In this part . . .

f you’re like most veterans, you’re proud of your military service and proud to call yourself a veteran. But
the title of “veteran” and 35 cents will buy you much more
than a cup of coffee. You may be eligible for a world of
benefits — more than you probably thought possible —
available only to those who have served in the military.
But to get your hands on them, you need to know what
they are and what you need to do to get them. The chapters in Part I are here to help you get started. They give
you the basics on the type of coverage available for you
and your loved ones, how to qualify, how to work with the
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and more. Read on!

Chapter 1

The Wonderful World
of Veterans Benefits
In This Chapter
▶ Preparing to receive benefits
▶ Taking a joyride through the benefits playground

E

xactly what is a benefit? My handy-dandy pocket dictionary says it’s “a
theatrical performance or other public entertainment to raise money
for a charitable organization or cause.” Wait a minute, that’s not right. Sorry,
wrong definition. It’s also defined as “something that is advantageous or
good, or a payment or gift.”
Okay, I can live with that. That means a veterans benefit is something good,
and this book is chock-full of good things available only to veterans (and
sometimes their spouses and dependents too).
If you thought this book was going to be about how the government takes
advantage of veterans, or how hard it is to get veterans benefits, or how the
system is all messed up, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. Plenty of
that negative attitude is already available between the covers of other books
and on the pages of magazines, newspapers, and Web sites. I’m not going to
add to that. This book is all about what benefits are available and how you —
the veteran or veteran’s family member — can get your hands on them.
In my extensive travels throughout the United States in recent years, I’ve
spoken to hundreds of veterans. After the obligatory war stories about how
we each individually saved the world a time or two, the topic often turned
to veterans benefits. I was surprised to find out how many veterans have no
clue about the benefits they’re entitled to in exchange for the services they
gave and the sacrifices they made in defense of their country.

10

Part I: Benefiting From Benefits
That’s my goal in writing this book. It’s not to lambaste the powers-that-be
for not doing enough. I’m not going to criticize the Department of Veterans
Affairs or the Department of Defense. I’m not going to tell you horror stories
of veterans who have been tangled up in the system for years. If that’s what
you’re looking for, you can pick up one of the other books out there in book
land that address those topics.
I have a brand-new approach, one that’s never been tried before. In this
book, I tell you in simple, plain language what veterans benefits are available
to you and what you need to do to apply for them. Sounds fun, right? I knew
you’d agree.

Getting Familiar with the
Benefits You Deserve
I think you’re going to be surprised at the number and types of benefits that
are available to you. Of course, nobody is going to walk up to your door and
hand them to you. That would be too easy. Instead, you have to know what
benefits there are, you must find out what the eligibility criteria is to receive
a particular benefit, you need to know which government agency is in charge
of that benefit, and then you have to ask for the benefit.
You would think, by now, that our government would agree on who is entitled
to call themselves a veteran. You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. As you read
Chapter 2, you discover that there’s no single legal definition for the term
veteran when it comes to veterans benefits. Because different benefits were
enacted into law at different times by different Congresses, each benefit has
varying qualification criteria. You can qualify for some benefits with just one
day of military service. Other benefits require you to serve a minimum amount
of time. Still others require that you meet certain conditions, such as having a
disability resulting from military service.
You’d also think that the government would have some kind of massive
computer system that would have all the details about your service in the
United States military. You would think Uncle Sam would know when you
served, where you served, how long you served, what medals you may have
earned, and what kind of discharge you received. Once again, you’d be wrong.
Maybe in the future, but right now if you want a particular benefit, it’s up to
you to prove your status as a veteran. You do this by providing copies of
your military discharge paperwork. Chapter 2 tells you what paperwork you
need and — if you don’t have it — how you can get it.

Chapter 1: The Wonderful World of Veterans Benefits
You may be one of those who think that you need an honorable discharge
to qualify for a veterans benefit. Many veterans believe that. If you’re in this
camp and you don’t have an honorable discharge, you’ll be very glad you
bought this book. The information in Chapter 2 dispels that myth. Some benefits require an honorable discharge, but there are many benefits you can
receive with a general or other than honorable discharge as well.

Breaking Down Your Benefits
You may be surprised to find out how many goodies are available to veterans and their family members. Some of these benefits are well-known, such
as medical care and disability compensation. You may have never heard
of other benefits, ranging from loans to open a small business to free headstones when you finally move on to that big battlefield in the sky.
Other goodies include free or low-cost medical care, cash payments directly
from Uncle Sam, plans designed to help you get a college degree or vocational training, programs that assist you in finding and getting your dream
job, programs that help you buy a house or find a place to live in your golden
years, shopping and travel perks, memorial and burial benefits, and services
and programs available to surviving family members.

In the beginning, there were veterans benefits
I was planning to title this sidebar “In the beginning, there were no veteran benefits” because I
thought it would be a catchy title. Turns out, however, that statement’s not true. We Americans
began offering benefits to our soldiers even
before our founding fathers got together and
told the British to take a hike. In 1636, the folks in
Plymouth Colony, when they weren’t busy wearing funny hats and shooting at turkeys, declared
that any soldier who received a disabling injury
while defending the colony would be taken care
of by the colony for life.

In 1780, during the Revolutionary War, the
Continental Congress attempted to boost
recruitment by promising officers half pay for
seven years and enlisted soldiers a musteringout bonus of $80 if they served to the conclusion of the war. The Congress also provided
pensions for those disabled in the conflict.
Other soldiers and sailors were promised land
deeds in exchange for their military service. We
Americans have a proud tradition of taking care
of our veterans.

11

12

Part I: Benefiting From Benefits

“No” doesn’t always mean no
You may ask for a benefit and be told no. You
may be told that you’re not eligible for the benefit because of this or that, even though you
read this book from cover to cover and believe
that you meet the eligibility criteria. Maybe you
asked for a benefit years ago, only to be told
you don’t qualify, so you gave up.
Maybe you were told no, and you don’t even
know why. The Department of Veterans Affairs
(VA) has developed a bad habit over the years
of phrasing its rejection letters in such a way
that even legal eagles couldn’t understand
them. Fortunately, the agency isn’t allowed
to do that anymore. A brand-new law (passed
in September 2008 by your friendly neighborhood Congress critters) now requires the VA
to use plain, simple, everyday language when
it rejects a benefit claim. Wow! What a great

idea! I wonder why nobody ever thought of this
before?
Even if the VA says no in simple, plain, everyday language, it doesn’t mean that it’s right.
Most of the time when the VA rejects a claim,
it’s because you didn’t provide the correct
paperwork — what the VA calls supporting
evidence. Chapter 3 not only helps you avoid
that mistakes by getting your ducks in a row
before you apply in the first place, but it also
tells you what you can do if the VA says no
and you think it’s wrong (you’d be surprised to
know how often the VA is wrong).
You can ask the VA to take another look at your
case, and if it still says no (stubborn little rascal,
isn’t it?), you can appeal the decision. There’s
even a federal court that does nothing else but
hears appeals for veterans benefit claims.

Meeting your healthcare needs
Most veterans are eligible for healthcare, either through the Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) or through the Department of Defense (DOD). It may or
may not be cost free, depending on your particular status and annual income.
In today’s world of rising healthcare costs, this is a very valuable benefit.
The VA’s healthcare program is designed to meet the basic medical needs of
all veterans, whether they have an injury or illness related to their service
in the military or not. As with most modern healthcare programs, the VA’s
system emphasizes preventive care, including examinations, vaccinations,
primary care, emergency care, hospitalizations, surgeries, mental health
care, counseling services, and more. Some veterans may even be eligible for
free eyeglasses, hearing aids, and dental services.
Under the VA system, the government will even pay your travel expenses to
receive healthcare in certain circumstances. When’s the last time you heard

Chapter 1: The Wonderful World of Veterans Benefits
of a healthcare program that paid you to go see the doctor? That’s pretty
cool, if you ask me. You can read all about it in Chapter 4.
A special group of veterans, known as military retirees, has access to a separate healthcare system managed by the DOD, called Tricare. Of course, most
of these retirees are eligible for the VA system as well, but Tricare gives
you more options when selecting medical providers, and — unlike the VA
program — it’s available to immediate family members as well. The bad news
is that it’s not available to all veterans, just those who served for 20 or more
years in the military. Chapter 5 tells you everything you ever wanted to know
about Tricare.

Pocketing a monthly check
Millions upon millions of military veterans qualify to receive a monthly check
from the government. Well, it’s not really a check . . . these days everything is
done by direct deposit. Oh, well, think of the trees we’re saving.
Veterans who can show that they have a disability or medical condition that
was caused or made worse by their service in the military may qualify for a
special monthly payment, called disability compensation. The VA rates such
disabilities on a rating scale of 10 percent to 100 percent, in 10 percent increments, depending on how severe the condition is.
The amount of disability compensation depends on the severity of the rated
disability and other factors, such as number of dependents who live with the
veteran. The minimum monthly payment is currently $117 per month (veteran with no dependents and a 10 percent service-connected disability), but
some veterans may receive more than $7,000 per month. Does that sound
interesting? If so, take a look at Chapter 6.
Even if you don’t have a service-connected disability, you may still qualify for
monthly payments from the VA. Veterans with even one day of wartime service who are 100 percent disabled or over the age of 65 and have a low income
may be eligible for a VA pension. Chapter 6 has information on this program
as well.
Anyone who’s ever stepped foot in a military recruiter’s office knows that if
you serve for 20 or more years in the military, you receive monthly military
retirement pay for life. But did you know that, in some cases, it’s possible
to retire from the military before 20 years of service? Or did you know that
ex-spouses may be entitled to a portion of your military retirement pay? You
can read all about it in Chapter 7.

13

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Part I: Benefiting From Benefits

Sometimes old soldiers do die: Memorial
benefits and taking care of survivors
With all due respect to General MacArthur, he was wrong. Dying is a part
of life and a part that nobody can avoid. Veterans may die, but that doesn’t
mean they’re forgotten or that benefits stop.
We not only owe our nation’s veterans a debt of gratitude, but their family
members deserve our thanks as well. Chapter 8 includes programs available
to surviving family members of military veterans. Various life insurance programs are available only to veterans, and survivors may also be eligible for
medical care, pensions, and education benefits.
A host of burial and memorial benefits are available for most deceased veterans, including free burial services, no-cost markers and headstones, reimbursement for funeral and burial expenses, free national and state veterans
cemeteries, and military funeral honors performed by a precision military
honor guard. You can read all about these benefits in Chapter 9.

Getting educated about education benefits
You’ve probably heard of the GI Bill. It’s been around in one form or another
since World War II. But the GI Bill education program you know of may not
bear any resemblance to the GI Bill today. My, oh my, has this program
changed over the years. There’s even a brand-new GI Bill, created in 2008,
called the GI Bill of the 21st Century. It’s applicable to most veterans who have
active-duty service after September 11, 2001. If you served in the military
after 9/11, you most certainly want to read all about this valuable education
program in Chapter 10.
Even if you got out of the military before 9/11, there may be a GI Bill program
applicable to your situation. However, you’ll want to hurry to check out the
information in Chapter 10. The GI Bill isn’t forever — there’s a time limit on
how long you have to use it.
If you’re not eligible for education benefits under the GI Bill, you may still be
eligible to go to college or receive vocational training on the government’s
dime if you have a service-connected disability that affects your ability to get
and hold a job. Details about this program are in Chapter 11.

Chapter 1: The Wonderful World of Veterans Benefits

Take this job and . . . well,
just take this job
Want to know who’s the largest employer in the United States? I’ll give you a
hint: It’s not Walmart (although it’s the largest private employer in the U.S.).
The single largest employer in the United States is the federal government.
The U.S. government has more than 1.8 million employees, and that doesn’t
even count the 785,989 folks who work for the U.S. Postal Service. Walmart
only has a measly 1.1 million employees.
Did you know that some veterans may qualify for special hiring preference
for federal government jobs? It’s true. Most veterans are eligible for additional
points when competing for federal jobs. If you served during certain periods,
you can get even more hiring points.
You say that you don’t want a government job? Well, I can’t say that I blame
you. The only government job I’m personally interested in is becoming the
president, and that’s probably not going to happen (plus, veterans preference points don’t apply for that particular job).
Perhaps you’d like to own your own business, instead? Ah, that would be the
life. You could take expensive business trips and lord over the peons you
hire to do your bidding. The Small Business Administration has a program
that may help you fulfill your dreams. Veterans can receive preferential treatment and reduced interest rates for small business loans guaranteed by the
federal government.
Chapter 12 has more information about these two valuable benefits.

There’s no place like home
Everyone wants to own their own home one day. I know I do. I can’t live with
my children for the rest of my life. I’m just kidding. I don’t live with my kids —
there’s no way that they’d put up with me. Writers are no fun to live with.
We’re often cranky; we’re lazy; and sometimes we forget to shower.
When I’m ready to buy my own home, I’m certainly going to take advantage
of the VA Home Loan Program. Every eligible veteran should, in my opinion.
Under this program, the government doesn’t actually lend you any money,
but it guarantees the loan. In other words, if you default, the government

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Part I: Benefiting From Benefits
pays off the loan (up to a certain amount). That makes you a very attractive
candidate to certain mortgage lenders. It’s kind of like having Big Brother
as a co-signer. If you’re eligible for this program, you may find it easier and
cheaper to finance your next dream house. But you’ll certainly want to read
Chapter 13 first.
When I reach my golden years, I may consider giving my dream home to
my kids (if they continue to be nice to me and remember my birthday, and
they stop asking me for an allowance) and move into a military retirement
home. You say you’ve never heard of such a place? The federal government
operates two retirement homes for certain veteran enlisted members; several
private, nonprofit organizations offer retirement communities for officers. If
the thought of golf and shuffleboard and trips and home-cooked meals when
you’re old and gray tickles your fancy, check out Chapter 14.

Shopping and sight-seeing
My personal copy of Writing Dummies Books For Dummies says I should
avoid sexism. I’m sorry, but I can’t help engaging in a little sexism here. Many
women love to shop. The only thing they seem to love more than shopping is
finding huge discounts when they shop. I know my own girlfriend is certainly
hard-wired for shopping. Fortunately for her (and my wallet), tons of shopping and discount opportunities are available to military retirees and certain
other veterans.
Want to buy a diamond bracelet for 50 bucks or a new TV for $10? I’m sorry,
but that’s not going to happen on a military base — this is a benefit, not a
pipedream. However, you can save up to 30 or 40 percent by shopping on
military bases or through the military exchange system’s Internet sites.
Ready to snag a bargain? Take a look at the information in Chapter 15.
My girlfriend may love to shop, but I love to travel. I’d spend every waking
moment traveling if I could. I love to see things I’ve never seen before and
meet people I’ve never met before. It’s lucky for me that many veterans
qualify for military travel benefits, including free aircraft flights, discount
luxury condominium rentals in exotic locations, Armed Forces Recreation
Centers, and cheap overnight stays in military hotels. Chapter 16 has the 411
on these benefits.

Chapter 2

Determining Veteran Status
and Qualifying for Benefits
In This Chapter
▶ Defining “veteran”
▶ Different strokes for different folks: Various types of military service
▶ Grasping the basic rules for benefits
▶ Proving your veteran status
▶ Keeping your records safe

W

hen I was a kid, I thought I knew what a military veteran was. They
were all those old people hanging out at the American Legion or the
local VFW, right? Then my dad told me that he was a veteran, having served
during the Korean War. I was confused because my dad never hung out at
these two clubs. Confusion being the natural state of my life at that age, I
didn’t let it hinder me. I wrote an article about veterans for my high school
newspaper during the week of Veterans Day. Not only did I learn a lot about
military veterans, but that article got me a date with Lori Geller, who thought
the article was “far out.”
The truth is, millions upon millions of veterans are living in the United States.
Some veterans are very vocal about their status, active in veterans affairs,
and belong to various veteran organizations, while others go quietly through
their lives, never even mentioning their status as an American veteran of the
armed forces.
You probably know several veterans, whether you know them to be veterans
or not. Perhaps your neighbor, teacher, doctor, lawyer, dog catcher, or best
friend is a veteran. As I said, I didn’t even know my own dad was a veteran
until the year of that glorious date with Lori Geller.

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Par t I: Benefiting From Benefits
Many veterans never take advantage of benefits available to them. My dad
certainly didn’t. It’s possible that Dad didn’t even know about most of them.
To my dad, veterans benefits were just for those who were “shot up during
the war.” Not true, Father. Not true.
This chapter explains who can be called a veteran and how that status relates
to benefits, and tells you what proof you need to show to get the benefits
you’re entitled to.

What Is a Veteran? The Legal Definition
What exactly is a veteran? Are you a veteran if you spend one week in the military and are then discharged because you’re injured in basic training? Are
you a veteran if you spend four years in the National Guard or Reserves, but
never spend any time on active duty? Are you a veteran if you spend 15 years
on active duty, but are then given a dishonorable discharge?
My handy-dandy pocket dictionary defines the term veteran as “(1) a person
who has served in the armed forces; (2) an old soldier who has seen long
service.” That can’t be true. The first definition would mean that everyone
who has ever seen a day of military service would qualify, even if they receive
a dishonorable discharge. The latter would imply that only “old soldiers”
could qualify as veterans.
Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines a veteran as “a person who
served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or
released under conditions other than dishonorable.”
That makes sense to me. In other words, a veteran is someone who, at one
point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States
of America for an amount “up to and including my life.”
This probably all seems very simple, right? Well, when it comes to benefits,
the legal definition of veteran sometimes isn’t enough. You need to consider
other things, such as the type of service involved, or even where you served.
More on those issues in the following sections.

Chapter 2: Determining Veteran Status and Qualifying for Benefits

Understanding the Difference between
Types of Military Service
You’d be surprised how many people I meet who don’t know the difference
between active-duty service, service in the Reserves, and National Guard
service. If I had a dime for every time I’ve had to explain the differences, well,
I’d have a lot of dimes. But because you’ve given up quite a few dimes for this
book, I happily review the distinctions between these types of services in the
following sections.

Full-time warriors
Active-duty service is full-time service. This is generally what most people
think of when someone says he was in the military. Except when on leave
(vacation) or pass (authorized time off), active-duty members are subject to
duty 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Think of it as a full-time job.
These folks serve in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast
Guard. These military branches fall under the direction of the U.S.
Department of Defense.
Active-duty service counts toward length-of-service requirements when qualifying for veterans benefits.

Weekend warriors
Members of the Reserves and National Guard normally perform duty one
weekend per month, plus two weeks of training per year. It’s actually not fair
to refer to them as weekend warriors anymore. Ever since the United States
jumped onto the sand with both feet during the first Gulf War in 1990, these
warriors have been spending more and more time called to full-time active
duty in support of contingency operations.
The average National Guard or Reserve enlistment contract is for six years.
These days, a Guard or Reserve member can expect to spend about two
years of that six-year enlistment period performing full-time active duty.

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Par t I: Benefiting From Benefits
Reserves
Each of the military services has a Reserve branch. There’s an Army Reserve,
Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Coast Guard
Reserve. Like the active-duty forces, the Reserves fall under the auspices of
the Department of Defense, so they are federal agencies. The primary purpose
of the Reserves is to provide additional support and manpower to the activeduty forces in times of need.
When you join the Reserves, you first attend basic training and military job
school full time. This is called active duty for training, or ADT, and doesn’t
count as active-duty time for most veterans benefits.
Upon completion of basic training and military job school, reservists return
to their home, resume their lives and normal civilian jobs, but train (drill)
with their unit one weekend per month. Once per year, they receive 14 days
of full-time training. The weekend drills are called inactive duty training (IDT),
and the annual training falls into the category of ADT. Neither IDT nor ADT
counts toward service requirements for veterans benefits.
The president and the secretary of defense can recall reservists to active
duty at any time to support military missions. In fact, at any given time, about
65,000 reservists are performing active duty in support of military contingency operations. Active duty of this type does count toward veterans benefit
service requirements.

National Guard
There are only two National Guard services: the Army National Guard and
the Air National Guard. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard don’t have
National Guard branches.
The main difference between the National Guard and the Reserves is that the
Reserves belong to the federal government, while the National Guard units
belong (primarily) to the individual states.
Like reservists, National Guard members attend basic training and military
job school full time under ADT (active duty for training). They then return
to their homes, where they drill with their units one weekend per month
(inactive duty training [IDT]), plus 15 full-time training days per year. As with
Reserve duty, this ADT/IDT time doesn’t count toward veterans benefit service requirements.
State governors can call National Guard members to active duty in response
to state emergencies, such as disaster relief or protection of property and
people, when it’s beyond the scope of local law enforcement agencies. This

Chapter 2: Determining Veteran Status and Qualifying for Benefits
is officially known as a “Title 38 Call-up,” and is commonly referred to as state
duty. State duty doesn’t count toward veterans benefit service requirements.
National Guard members can also be called to active duty by the president
or secretary of defense in support of military contingency operations. This is
called “Title 10 Call-up,” or federal duty. This type of duty does count toward
service requirements for veterans benefits. During any given month, about
40,000 members of the Air and Army National Guard are performing federal
duty in such garden spots as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Active Guard/Reserves
Some members of the Reserves and National Guard perform full-time active
duty, just like active-duty members. This program is called the Active Guard/
Reserves, or AGR. AGR members provide day-to-day operational support
needed to ensure that National Guard and Reserve units are ready to mobilize when needed. For veterans benefit service requirements, AGR duty is the
same as full-time active-duty service (see the “Full-time warriors” section).

Individual Ready Reserve
It may surprise you to find out that everyone who joins the U.S. military for
the first time incurs a minimum eight-year military service obligation. Yep.
When you sign that enlistment contract, you’re obligating yourself to the military for a total of eight years. Whatever time isn’t spent on active duty or in
the Guard/Reserves must be spent in the inactive reserves, officially known
as the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR).
Say you enlist in the Navy for four years. You serve your four years and get
out. You’re really not “out.” You’re transferred to the IRR for the next four
years. Members of the IRR don’t perform weekend drills or annual training,
and they don’t get paid. However, IRR members can be recalled to active
duty at any time in support of military operations. Time in the IRR doesn’t
count toward veterans benefit service requirements, but if you’re recalled to
active duty, that time does count.
An average of about 15,000 IRR members have been recalled to active duty
each and every year since 2004, the vast majority by the Army and
Marine Corps.

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Par t I: Benefiting From Benefits

Digging Into the Details: Other
Considerations for Benefits
Each time Congress passes a new veterans benefit law, the lawmakers establish specific eligibility criteria for that particular benefit. It can be confusing,
to say the least. Luckily, you made the wise decision to buy this book.
For the purpose of benefits, being a veteran is not enough. Whether you
qualify for benefits, or certain types of benefits, depends on several factors:
✓ Your length of service
✓ Where and when you served
✓ Your discharge characterization
More on these in the following sections. I cover the individual benefit issues
in the other chapters.

Length of service
Eligibility for most veterans benefits requires a minimum length of military service. Take a gander at Table 2-1. As you can see, to qualify for full
Montgomery GI Bill education benefits, you have to serve for a minimum of
36 months.
On the other hand, you could qualify for VA disability compensation or VA
medical care with only one day of active duty. Don’t get too excited, because
for disability or medical care, you have to meet a slew of other qualification
requirements. Chapters 4 and 6 give you the complete lowdown on these two
programs. (And if you’re wondering about the “Discharge Characterization”
column, I cover that topic later in this chapter.)

Table 2-1

Veterans Benefits Basic Eligibility Criteria

Benefit

Minimum
Service
Requirement

Period of
Service

Discharge
Characterization

Complete
Information

VA
healthcare

Any

Any

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 4

Military
health
insurance

20 years

Any

Honorable

Chapter 5

Chapter 2: Determining Veteran Status and Qualifying for Benefits

Benefit

Minimum
Service
Requirement

Period of
Service

Discharge
Characterization

Complete
Information

VA pension

90 days active
duty

Before Sept. 7,
1980

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 6

VA pension

2 years active
duty

On or after
Sept. 7, 1980

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 6

VA disability
compensation

Any

Any

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 6

Military
retirement

20 years

Any

Honorable

Chapter 7

Military life
insurance
programs

Any

Any

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 8

Burial and
memorial
benefits

Any

Enlisted: Service
on or before
Sept. 7, 1980
Officers: Service
on or before
Oct. 16, 1981

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 9

Burial and
memorial
benefits

24 months
continuous
active duty

Enlisted:
Service after
Sep. 7, 1980
Officers:
Service after
Oct. 16, 1981

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 9

Active-Duty
GI Bill

36 months
active duty

Any

Honorable

Chapter 10

Reserve GI
Bill

After initial
training

Any

N/A

Chapter 10

21st Century
GI Bill

90 days
continuous
active duty
or 6 months
total active
duty

After
Sept. 11, 2001

Honorable

Chapter 10

(continued)

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Par t I: Benefiting From Benefits

Table 2-1 (continued)
Benefit

Minimum
Service
Requirement

Period of
Service

Discharge
Characterization

Complete
Information

Vocational
training for
disabled
veterans

Any

Any

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 11

Veterans job
preference

1 day

Any

Honorable, general, or VA determination

Chapter 12

Veterans
smallbusiness
loans

Any

Any

Honorable
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 12

VA Home
Loan Program

90 days active
duty

Sept. 16, 1940, to
July 25, 1947; or
June 27, 1950, to
Jan. 31, 1955; or
Aug. 5, 1964, to
May 7, 1975

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 13

VA Home
Loan Program

181 days continuous active
duty

Enlisted:
July 26, 1947,
to June 26, 1950;
or Feb. 1, 1955,
to Aug. 4, 1964;
or May 8, 1955,
to Sept. 7, 1980
Officers:
May 8, 1975
to Oct. 16, 1981

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 13

VA Home
Loan Program

24 months
continuous
active duty

Enlisted: Sept. 7,
1980, to present
Officers: Oct. 16,
1981, to present

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 13

VA Home
Loan Program

6 years
Guard/
Reserve
service

Any

Honorable

Chapter 13

Homeless
veterans
programs

Any

Any

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 14

Chapter 2: Determining Veteran Status and Qualifying for Benefits

Benefit

Minimum
Service
Requirement

Period of
Service

Discharge
Characterization

Complete
Information

Military
retirement
homes

20 years

Any

Honorable

Chapter 14

Military
retirement
homes (100%
disabled)

1 day

Any

Honorable,
general, or VA
determination

Chapter 14

Military shopping benefits

20 years or
100% disabled

Any

Honorable

Chapter 15

Military travel
benefits

20 years or
100% disabled

Any

Honorable

Chapter 16

Note: The table shows basic eligibility criteria only. As with most things in life, there are
exceptions. For complete information, see the referenced chapter.

Where and when you served
I don’t know why Congress can’t make things simple. Just to complicate
things, where and when you served in the military can have an impact on
your eligibility for certain veterans benefits.
Take another look at Table 2-1. To qualify for the VA Home Loan Program,
you need at least 90 days of active-duty service if you served during the
Vietnam War. However, if your military service was during the Gulf War, you
must have at least 24 months of continuous active-duty service to qualify. A
member of the National Guard or Reserves must have at least six years of
Guard/Reserve service to qualify (unless they otherwise qualify due to activeduty service).

Service discharges
I’m always amazed at how many people, including military people, think that
there are only two types of military discharges (sometimes called characterizations): honorable and dishonorable. I mean, really . . . didn’t anyone ever
watch JAG on TV? I’ve lost track of the times that veterans, many with several
years of military service, have said to me, “I want to apply for benefits, but I
think I got a dishonorable discharge.”

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Par t I: Benefiting From Benefits
Trust me. If you received a dishonorable discharge, you’d know it. This is
the worst kind of military discharge possible, and it can only be imposed by
a general court-martial (the most serious kind of military court-martial). It’s
only given for serious crimes and is almost always accompanied by a lengthy
stay in a military prison.
Military discharges come in two basic flavors:
✓ Administrative: Administrative discharges are granted by the discharge
authority, who is usually a high-ranking commanding officer.
✓ Punitive: Punitive discharges can be imposed only by a military
court-martial.
More on each in the next two sections.

Administrative discharges
The vast majority of those who serve in the military receive an administrative
discharge, of which there are four types:
✓ Honorable discharge: Most people receive an honorable discharge
(HD) following their service in the military. An HD means your command
feels that you generally met the standards of conduct and performance
of duty during your time in the military. It’s also granted if your service
was otherwise so meritorious that any other characterization would be
clearly inappropriate. For example, if you received a military medal for
valor or bravery on the battlefield, you would usually be given an HD,
even if you were a bit of a troublemaker otherwise.
✓ General (under honorable conditions) discharge: Usually simply
referred to as a “general discharge,” or GD, this type of discharge is
granted if your commander determines that your service has been
honest and faithful, even if you got into a bit of trouble here and there.
If you were discharged for reasons such as failure to progress in training; failure to maintain military standards, such as dress, appearance,
weight, or fitness; or minor disciplinary infractions, you may have
received this discharge characterization.
✓ Other than honorable discharge: This is the worst type of administrative
discharge you can receive. Other than honorable (OTH) discharges
are warranted when the reason for discharge is based upon a pattern
of behavior that constitutes a significant departure from the conduct
expected of members of the military services. Examples of factors
that may be considered include an act of serious misconduct, abuse
of authority, fraternization, or a pattern of continued misconduct.
Individuals who receive court-martial convictions that don’t include
punitive discharges are often given this discharge characterization.

Chapter 2: Determining Veteran Status and Qualifying for Benefits
✓ Entry-level separation: This type of discharge isn’t actually a characterization. In fact, an entry-level separation (ELS) has no characterization at
all. It’s not honorable, it’s not general, and it’s not other than honorable.
Commanders may grant an ELS only for members who have been in
the military for less than 180 days. It’s the commander’s way of saying,
“Look, we tried you out, and you didn’t make it. However, I don’t know
you well enough to fairly judge you.”
If you were discharged with less than 180 days of service, don’t assume
you received an ELS. Commanders may elect this option only if they feel
it’s the most appropriate. If you punched out your drill instructor after
only five days in basic training, it’s doubtful you received an ELS.

Punitive discharges
Only special and general courts-martial have the authority to impose a punitive discharge. Summary courts can’t impose discharges. However, if you’re
convicted of an offense by any court-martial, and the court doesn’t (or can’t)
impose a punitive discharge, your commanding officer can elect to initiate
administrative discharge proceedings as a separate matter (see the preceding section for more on these).
There are three kinds of punitive discharges:
✓ Bad conduct discharge: A bad conduct discharge, or BCD, can be
imposed by both special and general courts. However, it can only be
given, as part of the court punishment, to enlisted members. Officers
can’t receive a BCD. This discharge is usually given for convictions of
such crimes as absent without leave, drunk on duty, driving while under
the influence, adultery, bad checks, disorderly conduct, and so on.
✓ Dismissal: Dismissal from military service can only be imposed on
officers. Special and general courts may impose this on officers when
the maximum punishment listed in the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM)
includes a BCD (bad conduct discharge). Dismissal is the officer version
of a BCD.
✓ Dishonorable discharge: A dishonorable discharge (DD) is the worst
type of military discharge you can receive. It can be imposed only by
a general courts-martial, and then only if the MCM (Manual for CourtsMartial) authorizes a DD for the offense you’ve been convicted of. In most
cases, a DD is accompanied by a very long vacation in a military prison.

How discharges affect eligibility
If you received an honorable or general discharge, you’re eligible for most
veterans benefits, assuming you meet the other qualifying factors for that

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Par t I: Benefiting From Benefits
benefit. A few benefits, such as GI Bill education benefits (see Chapter 10),
require an honorable discharge.
If you received a dishonorable discharge, a bad conduct discharge, or a dismissal from a general court-martial, you’re not entitled to veterans benefits.
If you received an OTH administrative discharge, or a BCD or dismissal
imposed by a special court-martial, you may or may not be eligible for veterans benefits. In these cases, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) makes
a determination as to whether your service was “other than honorable.”
In making this determination, the VA is required by law to apply the standards set forth by Congress in Title 38, Section 3.12, of the Code of Federal
Regulations (CFR).
You can view the CFR online at edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2007/
julqtr/pdf/38cfr3.12.pdf.
Generally, the VA evaluates your military service as “other than honorable” if
✓ You were discharged as a conscientious objector who refused to perform military duty, wear the uniform, or comply with lawful order of
competent military authorities.
✓ You resigned as an officer for the “good of the service.”
✓ You accepted an OTH discharge rather than face a trial by general
court-martial.
✓ You were discharged for desertion. The crime of desertion is defined
as absent without leave (AWOL) with the intent to remain away
permanently.
✓ You were discharged for AWOL in excess of 180 continuous days.
✓ You were discharged for the offense of mutiny or spying.
✓ You were discharged for an offense involving moral turpitude (or
depravity). This includes, generally, conviction of a felony.
✓ You were discharged for willful and persistent misconduct.
✓ You were discharged for homosexual acts involving aggravating circumstances or other factors affecting the performance of duty. Examples
include child molestation, homosexual prostitution, homosexual acts
or conduct accompanied by assault or coercion, and homosexual acts
or conduct taking place between service members of different ranks, or
when a service member has taken advantage of his or her superior rank.
You can have your military discharge characterization upgraded, or even have
your reason for discharge changed. For details, see Chapter 3.

Chapter 2: Determining Veteran Status and Qualifying for Benefits
You may be eligible for VA medical care (see Chapter 4) even if the VA determines that your discharge doesn’t qualify for benefits. To qualify, the VA must
find that you have a medical condition that was caused or aggravated by your
military service.

Changing your discharge
If you have a disqualifying discharge characterization, does it mean you’re
out of luck for receiving benefits? Not necessarily. If you believe your discharge characterization or your reason for discharge to be inequitable or
improper, you can apply to the appropriate Discharge Review Board (DRB)
for a discharge upgrade or to change your reason for discharge.
✓ Inequitable means the reason for or characterization of the discharge isn’t
consistent with the policies and traditions of the service. An example
would b