The successes and failures of the Department of Veterans Affairs are frequently the subject of political promises and debate. Bumper stickers proclaim support for our troops, yet we hear so many stories of the ways that we continue to let them down.
If we judge by the number of ads and articles trumpeting services for to vets we have to think that lots of help is there for the asking. We are impressed by the words of a 6-year vet who confirms that there are lots of resources to help. He acknowledges that the VA is a good place to find many of them. But he also emphasizes others that “you have to pursue yourself.” He adds: “don’t stop educating yourself.”
We couldn’t agree more – and we're here to help you do that efficiently. Following are promising highlights selected from the mass of information available on services and financial resources for veterans. Be sure to check out Starbucks' free college tuition offer for vets and their spouse or child in the Education section at the end of this article!
Discover your program today!
Update August 2107 Did you know that Hawaii has one of the highest rates of veteran homelessness in the country? Recently the McNaughton Group — a local development group in Hawaii, made a one million dollar donation to U.S. Vets — an organization which offers shelter in emergencies and also longer term transitional housing for veterans who are homeless. They also help vets overcome addiction problems and assist them in job searches. The McNaughton Group’s donation is the largest they have ever received and will go a long way toward helping them fulfill their mission serving vets. The McNaughton group was motivated by the story of one Staff Sergeant who was a medic in Iraq. Coming home with PTSD he turned to drinking and drugs and the loss of his family. Now he is sober, lives in his own home and is working on getting a Master’s degree.
Update #2 April 2017
President Trump is moving forward on some of the commitments made to veterans during the presidential campaign. Just this past Thursday (April 28) he issued an executive order which forms a new office at the VA to focus on accountability and also take action to be sure that “whistle blowers” are not punished for their actions. The goal is to ultimately eliminate poor care for our veterans, in part by making it easier to remove employees with substandard performance. This order follows on his previous move to extend the program that allows some veterans to seek medical care outside the VA system when necessary.
Update April 2017
Did you know that one in seven veterans in the U.S. is self employed or owns a small business? Vets often make great entrepreneurs but they can face a tough time getting funding due to gaps in their active duty time. If you’re a vet who’s working on or running a start-up check out the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal on the VA website. It allows you to choose from a variety of topics like Access Financing, Find Opportunities, Resources for Veterans and more to learn more about useful resources available to vets. You may even be able to do business with the VA — take look at their Veterans First Verification Program to see if you can take advantage of their focus on sole-sourcing and procurement set-asides programs for Veterans.
News October 2016 The Secretary of Veterans Affairs recently announced grant awards of $3.4 million to help homeless veterans who have special needs. The grant money will go to sixteen community agencies who provide special care and services for those who need them. Services include supportive housing, help developing skills and incomes, and enabling independent living. The money helps to pay the higher operational costs involved with with special needs groups like the terminally ill, frail, mentally ill, women and vets with minor children. The current awards are going to organizations in Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Rosa in California, and to groups in Denver, CO, Boston, MA, Frederick, MD, Columbus, OH, El Paso and Houston, TX, and Salt Lake City, UT.
News May 2016 benefits.gov is honoring National Military Appreciation Month (May) by highlighting a number of benefit categories available on their site to help veterans find all the benefits available to them. They mention that three of the most popular programs that vets visit on their site are include:
- The Veterans Pension Program: providing support to veterans based on need;
- The Travel Reimbursement Program: provides travel reimbursement for mileage and other forms of transport both in the U.S. and abroad for veterans traveling to and from VA facilities; and
- Post-9/11 GI Bills: special benefits available to some veterans who went on active duty after the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Dental Care News February 2016: The government site about benefits has issued an update regarding dental care for veterans. Eligible vets are now entitled to outpatient dental treatment which covers a wide range of procedures including preventive care. You are encouraged to be enrolled in the VA's health care system (or to have qualified for an exemption). They have defined several different “classes” of care eligibility with some classes having more limitations than others. In general in order to be eligible for any dental care you must have been discharged under honorable conditions (though VA regional offices have the ability to modify that in some cases). To apply for dental care benefits you can go to any VA Medical Center or Clinic. Or you can apply online at 1010ez,med.va.gov.
Back to Veterans Grants:
There are many, many private foundations, non-profits and businesses that offer services and support to veterans. But the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is certainly the first place to look when it come to learning about benefits. Take a look at our review of va.gov. It offers extensive services and programs (some better than others) related to education, compensation for disabilities, loans for homes, pensions, employment assistance, insurance, healthcare, and more.
It is sometimes confusing and often seems like multiple sites are duplicating each other but it’s hard to be sure. If you know specifically what you are looking for, or if you want an overview of benefits, click “Benefits” at the top of the site’s landing page. When it takes you to the next page, click any one of the numerous benefits topics listed down the left side of the page for more information. By all means take time to learn about all the benefits available to you and all that the VA has to offer!
A tip worth trying if you want to narrow down the amount of information you need to sort through is to set aside some time to fill out the rather lengthy questionnaire at the government site benefits.gov. (See our review and tips on benefits.gov.) Have patience and fill it out completely. It will then tell you all the benefits for which you are or could be eligible. For those that relate to services administered by the VA, go back to benefits to apply.
Following are our Veterans Top Tips in four categories: Housing & Home Ownership; Employment; Business/Entrepreneurship (with a special section on Farming & Agriculture); and Education:
The services and financial support in these two areas are definitely at opposite ends of the spectrum. Assistance for housing specific to vets is focused on homeless vets and an effort to reduce and ultimately end chronic homelessness among vets. And Home Ownership is clearly for those who are well off enough to consider buying a home and have earned support via attractive loans rates.
For those who are homeless or who are paying an extremely high percentage of their income for rent, there are a few options to try:
- veteransinc.org is located in Massachusetts and is now reaching out to more of New England and beyond. It offers help specifically for homeless vets and families, providing meals, help with employment searches and training, legal assistance and a community of support. Go to their web site or call them at 1-800-482-2565.
- The National Call Center for Homeless Veterans is managed by the VA and has information about homeless programs as well as mental health services. You can call for yourself or for a friend or family member at 1-877-4AID-VET.
- A relatively recent program is a partnership between the VA and HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development). It is the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program. To apply you must go to your local HUD agency. To find that agency go to hud.gov, click “Rental Assistance”, then “Contact a Public Housing Agency.” When the colorful map comes up just click on your state and you’ll find a list of agencies. Contact the one that is most convenient for you.
For other potential sources of support see our article on Grants for Housing. Some of the programs discussed there may have special treatment or preference for veterans and their families.
VA Home Loans are available to active service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses. There is extensive information about these loans at the VA website. They are available for home purchase, refinancing, or repairs and home modifications required by a disability. The loans are provided by private lenders. The VA guarantees a high percentage of the loan amount, allowing the lenders to offer more attractive rates than other borrowers can get.
To apply for such a loan you need a Certificate of Eligibility. You can attain one online at ebenefits.va.gov. Or your lender may be able to get your certificate for you online. Spouses seeking survivor VA home loans must apply online for this certificate — information is provided on the VA website.
Government Jobs: The VA is one place to start looking for employment — particularly if you want to consider working for the U.S. Government. Because there is a special presidential initiative encouraging the hiring of vets in government, you can get tailored information to help your search at usajobs.gov/veterans.
Civilian Jobs: For jobs outside of government there are many programs to help vets. One of the most promising is careerinfonet.org, sponsored by the Department of Labor. Click the red arrow by the Job Search tab at the top of the landing page, then look to the lower right section called Job Tools. In the list below that title click “Veterans Job Finder.” This section is designed specifically for veterans, and postings are updated daily. Better yet, you can input your military job and your location, and a tool will match your skills with civilian jobs and then show you openings in your area. Or, if you already know a particular job you want to search for, you can use the Job Finder to see jobs available in the area you designate.
There are loads of companies and organizations that work to help vets start and run their own businesses. Here are our Top Tips:
The SBA is always a great place to start for anyone who wants to start or expand a business. For veterans, the SBA has a dedicated portal for lots of resources and tools. Just go to the main website sba.gov and enter “veterans” in the search box in the upper right, then click “veteran-owned businesses” in the search results. It will take you to a page that lists training resources in six different categories as well as a section called SBA Resources for Veterans. These include a Loans and Grants search tool, where to find Veterans Business Outreach Centers, and much more. Check it out as a great starting point for your business.
VetNet by Google offers resources and a place for veterans to network as well as to look for employment. Online classes and events are free.
The Veteran Fast Launch Initiative is a joint effort of SCORE (free consulting services for entrepreneurs) and Walmart. It offers free or deeply discounted tools and supplies for starting a business (e.g. software and business services). A mentor is also assigned to provide personal guidance.
The VA itself offers some self-employment grants for service-disabled vets. To apply you must submit a complete business plan that is judged to be feasible. Grants can be used for start-up fees, marketing services, equipment, inventory and more. contact your local VA office to talk with a counselor about qualifying for this program.
Street Shares is a loan auction site specifically for vets. The owners of a business present their pitch and investors bid for any portion of the desired loan amount.
Ready to go for a big dollar investment in your new business? Try Hivers and Strivers, an angel investment group that targets early funding of start-ups run by graduates of U.S. military academies. They typically invest between $250,000 and $1 million in one round. The Veterans Opportunity Fund also invests up to $3 million in startups begun or owned by U.S. veterans.
Farming and Agriculture: Did you know that 45% of our armed service members are from rural America? There is an expanded program now to encourage more people to get started in farming and ranching, and veterans are a target group. Major funds have been allocated for the programs. Some that want to help veterans in particular include the “Farmer-Veteran Coalition” (farmvetco.org), the University of Nebraska’s “Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots” program and Cal Poly Pomona’s “Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training.”
News November 2015: Starbucks has announced a new tuition program beyond what it already offers to its employees. Currently Starbucks offers free college tuition to employees in partnership with Arizona State University. Now they are extending that benefit to its employees who are veterans by paying for a spouse’s or child’s tuition as well. The offer is available to both full and part-time veteran employees. The “College Achievement Plan” pays for necessary tuition to earn a bachelor’s degree through ASU’s online course offerings. The program for all employees was initiated in 2014 and so far over 4,000 employees have taken advantage of it. In 2013 Starbucks announced a goal of hiring 10,000 military veterans and/or spouses by the year 2018. They now report that they are over halfway there. With this new offer we bet they’ll get to their goal before 2018. What an awesome savings to graduate college without debt — and without having to spend all your savings to do so!
GI Bill: This is an obvious first choice. Extensive information about it, the benefits it provides and how to apply are provided at the VA website.
Vets qualify for many types of scholarships and there are also many designated specifically for vets. You can do a scholarship search tailored for vets at careerinfonet.org. You can also get more information about how to find a scholarship here.