By KRISTINA JOHNSON
There are about 59,000 veterans living in Queens today, more than in any other borough. Those men and women have earned a huge range of benefits for their service to the country, but those benefits can sometimes be underutilized. That can be due to confusion about eligibility, difficulty completing paperwork and providing documents, or just simply not knowing what’s out there.
From housing, healthcare and education to jobs help and mental health counseling, veterans should be taking full advantage of everything to which they’re entitled.
Veterans can take advantage of VA home loans, which are usually more obtainable than conventional options. VA loans are made through private lenders, and typically come with very low interest rates. They can also be obtained with no money down, and because they’re backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, they don’t require private mortgage insurance. Eligibility requirements are based on length of service. Surviving spouses of deceased veterans may also be eligible for a VA loan.
Veterans who have been injured in the course of their service might also be able to get some housing help from the VA. You can apply for a grant to help pay to adapt your home with amenities like wheelchair ramps, or even to build a new, accessible home.
Of course, any talk about veterans and housing must take into account that a recent study estimated that there are around 38,000 homeless veterans in America. Many of those veterans are thought to have become homeless due to legal troubles. Vetlex.org can link vets to free or low-cost legal help.
Veterans get access to healthcare through the VA, but not everyone is eligible. If you’ve suffered a service-related injury or disability you are eligible, but for everyone else, eligibility is based on financial means. You aren’t eligible if you’ve received a dishonorable discharge from service.
Disability benefits are available to vets who have ongoing injuries due to their service. That can include issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which the VA estimates affects 10 to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets, and 15 percent of Vietnam vets.
For older veterans, VA healthcare may be cheaper than Medicare, with lower deductibles and copays. The VA can also help with the cost of long-term care in a nursing home. The first step in obtaining any VA health benefits is filling out form 10-10EZ, which can be obtained online or by calling 1-877-222-8387.
There are also resources available to help veterans find jobs. The National Labor Exchange runs an online job bank of veteran-friendly employers at veterans.usnlx.com. The VA also offers a stipend to help support eligible veterans who participate in on-the-job training programs or apprenticeships (which typically pay reduced wages during the course of the training). Veterans are also given hiring preference for federal jobs. If a veteran can’t take advantage of that preference, family members may be able to use the benefit instead.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill lets veterans get their college degree on Uncle Sam’s dime. Depending on length of service, eligible veterans could get their tuition fully paid for a state school, or up to $17,500 a year for a private school. You’re not necessarily stuck with the cost if you attend a private school with tuition higher than that, however; the GI Bill’s Yellow Ribbon program works with private schools to reduce the cost to the veteran student.
In addition to tuition benefits, there are housing and book stipends available. GI Bill benefits may also be transferred to a spouse or child. If you left the military after 2013, there is no time limit on using these benefits.
There are also a number of unofficial benefits that can save veterans money. Many major retailers offer discounts to vets, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s and Nike. Policies can vary by location, so ask a manager. For cell phone service, AT&T offers veterans a 25 percent monthly discount on their unlimited plan, while Verizon Wireless gives vets 15 percent off. LinkedIn offers a free premium one-year membership to veterans, as well as a free year of access to LinkedIn Learning.
Navigating the plethora of benefits available to veterans can be confusing and overwhelming, but working through it is well worth the effort. If you need help applying for a benefit for yourself or a loved one, the Wounded Warrior Project can connect you with an expert—email firstname.lastname@example.org. VFW and American Legion posts can also provide help.