The Military Separation Guide for Active Duty Personnel:
An Overview of What You Should Know Before You Leave Military Service
It’s never too early to begin preparations for your separation from active military service. The Department of Defense (DoD) recommends that you start your planning at least 12 months prior to separation, and 24 months prior to retirement, from active duty. The DoD’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is is a vital resource to ensure that your separation/retirement choices are truly in your, and your family’s, best interests. Transition counselors and online tools provide special transition benefits information, employment workshops, automated employment job-hunting tools and job banks, veteran benefits information, disabled veterans benefits information, and many other types of transition and other related information.
The Transition Assistance Program
The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) for the active component service consists of the following:
- Mandatory pre-separation counseling. Department of Labor (DOL) TAP employment workshops.
- Veterans benefits briefings conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
- Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP), which is also facilitated by the VA and is designed to focus on the special needs of disabled service members.
The transition process begins with the completion of the DD Form 2648 (“Pre-separation Counseling Checklist”). The checklist allows you to indicate the benefits and services that you wish to receive additional counseling for. All separating and retiring service members should make an appointment to see their local transition counselor for information on transition services and benefits. Transition counselors are located in the following military installation offices:
Army: Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP). See www.acap.army.mil/.
Air Force: Airman and Family Readiness Center. See www.militaryinstallations.dod.mil.
Navy: Fleet and Family Support Center. Navy personnel should make an appointment with their command career counselor for a pre-separation counseling interview at least 180 days prior to separation. See https://www.nffsp.org/.
Marine Corps: Career Resource Management Center (CRMC)/Transition & Employment Assistance Program Center.
Coast Guard: Worklife Division––Coast Guard Worklife staff can be found at the nearest Integrated Support Command.
In order to effectively plan for your transition from military service to civilian life, you should consider the following.
- Perform a self-assessment. Consider your skills, talents, and experience in terms of your attractiveness to an employer.
- Exploration of employment options. Consider current and emerging occupational areas that are attractive to you and whether such jobs coincide with your knowledge, skills, and experience.
- Skills development. Consider the skills that you will need to secure the kind of job that you want. Think about whether you would need additional education or training.
- Try-outs. Consider whether there are internships, volunteer jobs, temporary services, or part-time jobs where you can decide if a certain job is really what you want.
- The job search. Consider identifying job requirements and prospective employers, finding networks and placement agencies, and generally increasing your knowledge and experience in the job market. Explore how to write a resume, develop leads, complete job applications, and interview well.
- Job selection. Consider how to identify the right job for you.
- Support. Consider the kind of support you will require while you transition to a new career (e.g., financial, emotional, medical). Your family and friends can be a great source of support as well.
Think of your transition to civilian life as a journey on which you can use your individual transition plan as a road map. Your transition assistance counselor can help you address the foregoing points, as well as getting assistance in dealing with the stress that can result from life-altering changes and are a natural part of the transition process. Please remember that you are eligible for continued transition assistance for up to 180 days after your separation or retirement from active duty.
It is absolutely essential that you ensure that all of your military records are accurate before you separate from military service. This includes your service medical records and your administrative/personnel file (including performance evaluations, service-issued licenses or certifications, DD Form 2586 [“Verification of Military Experience and Training”] and any security clearances). You are entitled to review these files and to make complete copies of them for your records. You should keep your records in a safe and permanent file. Never give out the original copy of any of these documents.
DD Form 214 (“Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty”)
This form, commonly known as “DD-214”, is, possibly, the most important document that you will receive from the military. You cannot obtain VA benefits without presenting a DD-214. Keep your original DD-214 (and all service documents) in a safe, fireproof place and make at least 10 certified copies. In most states, you can register or record your DD-214 with county or town registrar’s office. Before doing so, however, you should inquire whether state or local laws permit public access to the recorded document. If public access is authorized, private identifying information may become available to the general public, which could compromise your privacy and financial security. As an alternative, you can have your local VA Veterans (Vet) Center (discussed more fully below) certify your DD-214 and have a copy placed in its files. You can visit the VA’s Vet Center directory online at www.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter.asp .
Correcting Inaccurate Military Records
Each branch of the military has its own procedures for correcting service members’ military records. After reviewing your service records, if you believe that there is an error, you should complete and file DD Form 149 (“Application for Correction of Military or Naval Record”). The form can be submitted by the service member or veteran, a survivor, or a legal representative. This form is available at www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/correcting-records.html.
The National Personnel Records Center
You or your next-of-kin can request a copy of your DD Form 214, your service medical records and other service-related documents at any time, even after your separation from active service, online by going to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) website at www.vetrecs.archives.gov/. You can also request a copy by mail by completing and submitting SF 180 (“Request Pertaining to Military Records”) to the NPRC. You can obtain this form through the NPRC website, or request the form by fax by calling the NPRC’s Fax-on-Demand System at (301) 837-0990 from a fax machine, using the handset. Follow the voice instructions, and request document number 2255. For assistance, call (314) 801-0800. Once completed, send the form to:
National Personnel Records Center
Attention: [your service department, e.g., Army Records]
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63132-5000
Veterans Entrepreneurship and Business Ownership
The VA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) have many programs that allow veterans to learn about business opportunities, obtain grants and low-interest loans, receive training, and other assistance in the pursuit of opening their own businesses. Information on these programs can be obtained at www.va.gov and www.dol.gov/vets/.
An important part of your transition from military service will be deciding where you want to reside as a civilian. During the transition process, you will receive a lot of information and counseling to assist you in making this critical decision.
You should start thinking about where you would like to live and be sure to keep in mind such factors as whether the kind of jobs that you are interested in will be available in that area. Which areas are most likely to have jobs that match your skills, experience, and career goals? What is the cost of living in the community that you choose? Does the state that you select tax military retirement pay? Do you already have family and/or friends there? These and similar concerns should be evaluated carefully.
Before moving, be sure to consult your nearest Family Center, which is an excellent source for relocation information and planning assistance. Family Centers can be accessed through:
Army: Army Community Service Center
Air Force: Airman & Family Readiness Center
Navy: Fleet and Family Support Center
Marine Corps: Marine and Family Services
Specialists within the Relocation Assistance Program (RAP) can help to prepare you for your relocation after leaving active service. RAP services include needs assessment and planning for individuals and families tailored to their personal circumstances and requirements and extensive information concerning military and civilian communities worldwide. See www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil. These features include information on housing directories and services, employment, education, health and wellness, as well as family services available near military installations. RAP specialists can also assist you in developing a relocation plan. Once you know your departure date, visit the RAP office at your local Family Center.
Authorized Leave / Permissive Temporary Duty (PTDY)
When you are ready to begin searching for a post-separation job or housing, to facilitate relocation you may be eligible for authorized administrative leave. Permissive Temporary Duty (PTDY) authority to facilitate transition into civilian life for house and job hunting for military members being involuntarily separated under honorable conditions, or retiring from active duty, can be extended indefinitely. Personnel being discharged or released from active service as involuntary separatees under honorable conditions can receive up to 30 days of leave, or transition PTDY up to 10 days, as required to facilitate relocation. However, such leave may not be available if it will interfere with military missions.
The spouse of an eligible involuntary separatee or a retiree may take one round trip on a military aircraft for house and job hunting on a space-available basis. He or she does not have to be accompanied by a military spouse. Similarly, if you are attending a DoD-approved transition assistance seminar, you may use military air transportation, if available.
Service members separating at the end of a normal term of service (ETS – Expiration Term of Service) or (EAOS – End of Active Duty Obligated Service) are not eligible for PTDY.
Transportation to Your New Home
Once you have chosen your new hometown, you should arrange for transportation counseling. Schedule an appointment with your installation’s Transportation Office as soon as you have your orders. The reimbursement amount for moving expenses is limited. If you are stationed overseas, you may be authorized to ship an automobile to the United States. Motorcycles may be shipped as part of your personal property. Please note that airline tickets must be purchased from the Commercial Travel Office (CTO) under contract to your branch of service. See www.secureapp2.hqda.pentagon.mil/perdiem/ for more details.
Leaving Your Current Housing
If you live in military quarters, you are required to arrange a time for a member of the housing staff to come to your home to perform a pre-inspection and to explain the requirements for cleaning and vacating quarters, as well as options available for you to accomplish them. You should make an appointment with the Housing Office as soon as your departure date is established.
If you are moving from a rental property, you should notify your landlord as soon as possible. The Housing Office can assist you with any landlord-tenant problems that you may experience in conjunction with your separation, such as breaking a lease or pre-mature termination.
Shipping and Storing Household Goods
Eligible involuntary separatees and retirees are authorized storage and shipment of household goods for up to one full year. Your items may be shipped to any destination within the United States. Other separatees are authorized storage and shipment of household goods for up to six months. Your items may be shipped to your home of record (i.e., where you lived when you entered the military) or where you were initially called to active duty.
Special-Needs Family Members
Families with members who have special needs can find information on the services available in your new hometown through the Family Center, the United Way/Community Chest, the community social services office listed in the local telephone directory, or the closest VA medical center. Please see the special needs website at www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil/.
Education and Training
The government provides education and training to separating service members to assist them in achieving the knowledge and skills necessary to obtain the careers that they want to pursue. The VA administers several programs in this regard, such as the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) and the Post-Vietnam-era Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP). Under these programs, the VA provides financial assistance to veterans for enrollment in degree programs, technical and vocational programs, correspondence courses, flight training courses, and on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs. These programs must be approved by the VA before benefits can be paid.
Both the MGIB and the VEAP are designed to help develop skills that will enhance opportunities for employment. In general, the benefits under either of these programs must be used within 10 years of separation from active duty.
With the exception of some officers who received a commission after December 31, 1976 as a result of graduating from a service academy or after completing a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship program, the MGIB is available to service members who first came on active duty on July 1,1985, or later, and who did not decline to participate in the MGIB program.
To be eligible for the full 36 months of MGIB benefits, veterans must normally meet the character of service (honorable discharge) and minimum length of service requirements. Certain veterans separated from active duty early for the convenience of the government may also receive the full 36 months of MGIB benefits. Veterans who are otherwise separated from active duty early may be eligible for prorated (reduced) MGIB benefits (i.e., one month of benefits for each full month of active duty).
To apply for MGIB benefits, you must submit VA Form 22-1990 (“Application for Education Benefits’ (available at www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/22-1990.pdf) as soon as possible, even if you are not ready to begin school.
Under the $600 Buy-up Program, you can receive up to $150 per month added to your standard MGIB payment rate, which could increase your total MGIB benefit by up to $5,400. To be eligible, you must be on active duty and elect to contribute up to $600 (in $20 increments) before you leave the service. Each $300 contributed earns an additional $75 a month in benefits. Submit DD Form 2366-1 (“Increased Benefit Contribution Program”) to your local payroll or personnel office. See www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/infomgt/forms/eforms/dd2366-1.pdf).
The VA can also provide you with educational counseling after you leave military service. Contact the VA GI Bill Regional Processing Office by dialing toll-free 1-888-GI Bill-1 (1-888-442-4551), or go to the MGIB website at www.gibill.va.gov. To contact the VA regional office closest to you, go to www.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp and click on “Type of Facility.” Then, click on your state to locate the nearest VA regional office, or call 1-800-827-1000. In addition, information on MGIB and other veterans’ educational benefit programs is available from your installation’s Education Center or from the admissions office or veterans’ coordinator at most colleges and universities.
Except for certain service members who signed delayed entry contracts before January 1, 1977, VEAP is available to individuals who first entered active duty during the period January 1, 1977 through June 30, 1985, and who made a contribution to a VEAP account before April 1, 1987. If you participated in VEAP and withdrew your contribution you may start a new allotment or make a lump-sum contribution at any time while you are on active duty.
Other Education and Training Options
You should take advantage of the transition process to consider your options for future success, especially your education and training options. Before your separation from active duty, visit your local Education Center, Navy College Office, or Marine Corps LifeLong Learning Center. Guidance counselors there can provide assistance in determining the goals that are right for you, the appropriate curriculum and educational institution, and help you with the paperwork necessary to enroll in an academic or vocational program. If you are unsure of what you want to do after military service, counselors can recommend aptitude tests or vocational interest inventories to help clarify your career goals and identify skills for which you have an aptitude. Once these skills are identified, they can be matched to specific occupations and careers outside of the military.
Once you have identified your career goals, education counselors can also advise you on alternative educational opportunities, such as college-level equivalency examinations, part-time educational programs that allow you to work while you train, converting your military training and experience into college credit, distance learning opportunities (including learning though CD-Rom, the Internet, satellite TV, cable TV, and DVD/video tape), and vocational and technical school programs designed to provide the skills needed to work in occupations that do not require a college degree.
Your military occupational specialty (MOS) may require a license or certification in the civilian workforce. There are several resources available to assist you in finding civilian requirements for licensing and certification, including the following:
Health Care Insurance
Often overlooked in the chaos of separating from active military service, but perhaps one of the most critical arrangements that must be made, is the arrangement for the veteran’s, and his or her family’s, health care insurance. It is very important that before you leave military service, you arrange for health insurance to protect yourself and your family from medical debt.
While it is quite likely that health insurance will accompany your new civilian job, you will be responsible for medical expenses that you or your family members incur during the period between when your entitlement to military health care ends and your private health insurance becomes effective. Accordingly, you should secure private health insurance before your separation. Your Transition Officer can assist you in doing so, as well as the Health Benefits Advisor at any military medical facility.
For those families who are expecting a baby, separating active duty service members who separate from the military prior to the baby’s delivery may be eligible to deliver the child in a military treatment facility, even after separation. You should contact the Commander at your military treatment facility to see if you qualify for a post-separation delivery.
Pre-separation Examination and Service Medical Records
Unfortunately, a substantial number of separating service members waive pre-separation physical and psychological examinations in order to speed up the separation process. This can be a mistake of cosmic proportions.
Do not, repeat, do not even consider not having a pre-separation examination. As a general rule, one of the requirements for eligibility for post-service VA disability compensation benefits and health care is that there be a record of complaints, symptoms, treatment or diagnosis of disease, injury, disorder or disability during active military service. If you develop a service-related disability after your separation, but have nothing in your service medical records concerning that disability, and there is no pre-separation examination to confirm the presence of that disability or any indication, symptom, etc., that could serve as the basis for a medical professional’s opinion that a current disability was related to military service, it will be highly unlikely that the VA will award you disability compensation. Since a service-connected disability is often the gateway to VA health care as well, not having a pre-separation examination could have adverse health consequences, not merely financial.
When you undergo your pre-separation examination, be sure to report any medical or psychological problem that you have experienced during your entire period of active service. Although disclosing some conditions, especially psychiatric conditions, might be considered embarrassing, it is worth reporting them, rather than jeopardize you right to VA benefits and health care.
Once you have undergone your pre-separation examination, be sure that you obtain complete copies of your service medical records (including both entrance (induction) and separation examinations, interim examinations, hospital admission records and outpatient treatment records). It is also a good idea to get copies of your service administrative/personnel file as well. These documents can be certified as true copies of your records by military records custodians. Your transition assistance officer can help you request these important records.
TRICARE and Transitional Health Care
TRICARE is a DoD program that provides in-service and post-service health care to eligible military personnel and their family members. The Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP) offers transitional TRICARE coverage to certain separating active duty members and their families members. Health care is available for a limited time. TRICARE eligibility under TAMP is available up to 180 days. There are four categories of eligibility for TAMP:
- Members involuntarily separated from active duty and their eligible family members;
- National Guard and Reserve members (collectively known as the Reserve Component [RC]), separated from active duty after being called up or ordered in support of a contingency operation for an active duty period of more than 30 days. Family members are also eligible.
- Members separated from active duty after being involuntarily retained in support of a contingency operation, as well as their family members; and
- Members separated from active duty following a voluntary agreement to stay on active duty for less than one year in support of a contingency mission, as well as their family members.Active duty sponsors and family members enrolled in TRICARE Prime who desire to continue their enrollment upon the sponsoring service member’s separation from active duty status are required to re-enroll. To re-enroll, the sponsor or family member must complete and submit a TRICARE Prime enrollment application. You should contact your servicing personnel center prior to separating to see if you are TAMP eligible.
Please note: Transitional health care does not apply to retirees.
After the 180-day period for transitional health care has expired, you and your family are no longer eligible to use military treatment facilities or TRICARE. However, you may purchase extended health care coverage, known as the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP). You have 60 days after your initial transitional health care ends to enroll in CHCBP. If you enroll, you and your family members will be issued identification cards that will allow you to use military treatment www.tricare.osd.mil.
If, however, you separate voluntarily, you and your family are not eligible to use military treatment facilities or TRICARE. Nevertheless, you may purchase extended transitional health care coverage (CHCBP) for up to 18 months of coverage. You have 60 days after separation to enroll in CHCBP, and, if you do, your coverage will begin on the day after your separation.
Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP)
Following the loss of eligibility for military medical benefits, you or a family member may apply for temporary, transitional medical coverage under the CHCBP. The CHCBP is a premium-based health care program that provides medical coverage to a select group of former military beneficiaries. CHCBP is similar to, but not part of, TRICARE. The CHCBP program extends health care coverage to the following individuals when they lose military benefits:
- The service member (who can also enroll his or her family members);
- Certain former spouses who have not remarried; and
- Certain children who lose military coverage.
Humana Military Healthcare Services, Inc. administers the CHCBP for the DoD. You should contact Humana Military Healthcare Services, Inc., in writing or by phone for information regarding CHCBP. You may also write to Humana at Humana Military Healthcare Services, Inc., Attn: CHCBP, P.O. Box 740072, Louisville, KY 40201, or call 1-800-444-5445.
A copy of the CHCBP enrollment application can also be found on the web at www.humanamilitary.com/chcbp/pdf/dd2837.pdf, www.tricare.mil and www.humana-military.com.
Remember, if you separate voluntarily, you and your family are not eligible to use military treatment facilities or TRICARE. However, you are eligible to purchase extended transitional health care coverage (CHCBP) for up to 18 months of coverage. You have 60 days after separation to enroll in CHCBP. Your coverage will start the day after your separation.
Medical Care for Retirees
TRICARE offers retiree beneficiaries three options in obtaining medical care:
TRICARE Prime is a health maintenance organization-type managed care program for which retirees are required to pay an annual enrollment fee. Enrollees are assigned a primary care manager who determines the most appropriate available source of care—a military treatment facility or a civilian network provider. Enrollees pay little or no co-payment and are usually not required to file claims for their care.
TRICARE Extra is a preferred provider organization-type (PPO) program. There are no enrollment requirements, but health care must be provided by a TRICARE network provider. You will be responsible for paying annual deductibles and out-of-pocket shares at a reduced rate. The network provider will file your claims for you.
TRICARE Standard is a fee-for-service program that requires an annual deductible and out-of-pocket shares once the deductible has been satisfied. You will be responsible for filing your own claims. Beneficiaries should contact their Health Benefits Advisors/Beneficiary Counselor and Assistance Coordinators (BCAC) at MTFs or stop in at your TRICARE Service Center for more assistance. A counselor locator can be found at www.tricare.mil/bcacdcao/.
If a service member or family member becomes entitled to Medicare Part A, whether due to a disability or when they turn 65, they are eligible for TRICARE For Life (TFL). There are no TFL enrollment fees, but you will be required to pay Medicare Part B premiums (unless the sponsor is on active duty). When using TFL, TRICARE acts as the secondary payer after Medicare in most cases. For more information about TFL, you can visit http://wwww.tricare.mil/tfl.
TRICARE for Survivors
Family members are entitled to TRICARE benefits as transitional survivors or survivors if their active duty service sponsor died while serving on active duty that had lasted for a period of more than 30 days. TRICARE will pay transitional survivor claims at the active duty family member payment rate and pays survivor claims at the retiree payment rate for surviving spouses. Claims for eligible children are processed at the active duty family member rate. Transitional survivors pay no enrollment fees or co-payments when they use TRICARE Prime. However, out-of-pocket shares and deductibles will be paid at the active duty family member rate to use for TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra. Contact your regional contractor or visit www.tricare.mil/ for more information.
Medical/Physical Evaluation Boards
If you are facing separation from active service on the basis of a medical disability, you will most likely be evaluated by a military medical evaluation board (MEB) or physical evaluation board (PEB). MEBs and PEBs are composed of military physicians or psychiatric professionals who will examine you directly or review your service medical records to determine whether you are able to return to duty or whether your disability precludes you from continued active service. In addition, if you are to be separated from active service on medical grounds, the MEB/PEB will issue a disability rating that will determine whether or not you may be entitled to DoD compensation benefits.
Once a decision has been reached, you will be given the opportunity to either accept the decision (by signing a written acceptance), or you may challenge the decision. You are also entitled to a hearing before the MEB/PEB if you challenge the decision. You are permitted to have a representative during the challenge process, including an attorney. If you are dissatisfied with the decision, you should elect to challenge it. You can contact United Spinal Association at (301) 495-4460 for information about obtaining a representative to assist you in challenging a MEB/PEB determination,
Service Members’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI)
SGLI is low-cost term insurance protection for active service personnel, members of the ready reserves, members of the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service, cadets and midshipmen of the four service academies, and members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
SGLI continues to cover you for the first 120 days after your separation. If you are totally disabled at the time of your separation, your SGLI coverage can continue without paying premiums, for up to two years from the date of your separation. Following the expiration of your SGLI extension, you may choose VA life insurance options.
Traumatic Injury Protection Program (TSGLI)
TSGLI is a disability rider to the SGLI program that provides automatic traumatic injury coverage to all service members covered under the SGLI program who become disabled as a result of traumatic injuries. TSGLI payments range from $25,000 to a maximum of $100,000, depending on the nature and severity of the injury(-ies).
Family SGLI (FSGLI)
FSGLI coverage is available for the spouses and dependent children of active duty service members and members of the Ready Reserve insured under SGLI. The service member’s’ spouse may obtain coverage up to $100,000, or an amount equal to the service members’ coverage, whichever is less. Age-based premiums are charged for spouses’ coverage. Each dependent child of the service member is automatically insured for $10,000, free of charge.
An enrollee may decline or elect lesser spousal coverage in increments of $10,000, but may not decline coverage for a dependent child. For more detailed information call toll-free 1-800-419-1473 or visit http://www.insurance.va.gov.
Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI)
VGLI is a VA life insurance program allows you to convert your SGLI to a term life insurance policy that is indefinitely renewable every five years, regardless of health. VGLI eligibility requires that you are insured under SGLI and: that you are separating from active duty or the Reserves, or were separated during the last year, plus 120 days; or that you are a member of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) or Inactive National Guard (ING); or that you are a reservist who has sustained an injury or disability during active duty or inactive duty for training (ACDUTRA) for a period of less than 31 days and becomes uninsurable at standard premium rates.
VGLI provides for the amount of SGLI coverage a service member had in force at the time of separation from active duty or reserves. It is issued in multiples of $10,000 up to a maximum $400,000. VGLI can be converted at any time to an individual whole life or endowment plan with certain selected commercial insurance companies.
Since SGLI coverage continues at no cost for 120 days after discharge, VGLI will not take effect until the 121st day. VGLI applications are mailed to eligible members on three occasions, generally within 60 days after separation, within 120 days after separation and when the SGLI free coverage period ends, and before the expiration of the 16-month application period.
VGLI applications are made using VA Form SGLV 8714 (“Application for Veterans’ Group Life Insurance”), which is available at www. insurance.va.gov/sgliSite/forms/8714.htm. The form should be mailed to the address shown on your DD Form 214 (or equivalent) separation orders. You must apply within the time limit, even if you do not receive an application in the mail. Applications for VGLI coverage should be mailed to:
The Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance
P.O. Box 5000
Millville, New Jersey 08332-9928
For more information call toll-free 1-800-419-1473 or visit the VA’s website at www.insurance.va.gov
Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (SDVI)
SDVI is life insurance for veterans who receive an award of VA service-connected disability benefits. The basic SDVI program, commonly referred to as “RH Insurance,” insures eligible veterans for up to $10,000 of coverage. Veterans who have the basic SDVI coverage, and who are totally disabled, are eligible to have their premiums waived. If a waiver is granted, totally disabled veterans may apply for additional coverage of up to $20,000 under the Supplemental SDVI program. Premiums for Supplemental SDVI coverage, however, may not be waived.
Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI)
VMLI is an insurance program that provides insurance coverage on the home mortgages of veterans with severe service-connected disabilities who receive a VA Specially-Adapted Housing (SAH) grant for assistance in building, remodeling, or purchasing an adapted home; and who hold title to the home; and who have a mortgage on the home.
Your financial situation can change dramatically during your transition, so careful financial planning is the key to successful post-service financial health. Service department Family Centers offer seminars that are extremely helpful in the area of financial planning, as well as individual counseling. Emergency loans are also available. Other services include family budgets and spending plans, recordkeeping, insurance, credit, debt liquidation, consumer rights, taxes and investments.
Certain separating service members are entitled to separation pay, which is paid on the basis of 10 percent of your annual base pay at the time of your separation, multiplied by the number of years of active service. Eligibility requires that you have satisfied all of the following elements: you have finished your first term of enlistment or period of obligated service; you have at least six years of service; you are separating involuntarily; you are not currently eligible for retirement; and you are not separating under adverse conditions. To determine if you qualify for separation pay, contact your unit commander and local personnel and finance offices. If you qualify, the finance office at your installation can compute the actual payment amount.
It is important to remember that all service members pay into Social Security. Therefore, your time in the military is counted toward your eligibility for Social Security aged-based retirement income, as well as for supplemental security income and disability income. You can contact your local Social Security office, listed under “U.S. Government,” in the telephone book. You can also go to www.ssa.gov/, or call 1-800-772-1213.
Special Loan Programs
Several government agencies assist veterans financially in the form of loans for homes, farms and businesses. Here are a few examples:
VA Home Loans
Eligible veterans, including active duty veterans, discharged veterans, and reservists, may obtain loans guaranteed by VA to purchase or refinance homes and condominiums. Unmarried surviving spouses may also be eligible. VA home loans feature a negotiable interest rate, choice of loan types, limited closing costs, no monthly mortgage insurance premiums, and no down payment is required in most cases. Most mortgage companies, banks and credit unions participate in this program because the VA guarantees a portion of the loan amount, which protects commercial lenders from loss if the loan should ever go to foreclosure. The lender will ask you to provide a VA Certificate of Eligibility (COE) that demonstrates that you are eligible to apply for a VA home loan. To obtain a COE, you should go to www.vba.va.gov/ and access VA Form 26-1880 (Request for Certificate of Eligibility). For general information on VA home loan guarantees, see www.homeloans.va.gov/veteran.htm.
FHA Mortgage Insurance
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) insures mortgage loans for the construction, purchase, and improvement of homes. FHA-insured mortgages allow veterans to borrow with minimum down payments and over longer periods of time. Application is made directly to any FHA-approved lender and the lender usually serves as the homebuyer’s contact with FHA throughout the loan approval process. Any local HUD field office can provide additional information. Check your local telephone directory for the office nearest you.
Business loans are available to veterans through programs of the Small Business Administration (SBA). In addition, SBA offers loans specifically to Vietnam-era and disabled veterans. Contact you the nearest SBA office for details or visit www.sba.gov.
The Farmers Home Administration is the rural credit agency of the Department of Agriculture. This agency has both direct and guaranteed loan programs that give preferential processing to veterans’ loan applications. For information and applications, contact the nearest office of the Farmers Home Administration. Most officers are located in rural county seats.
The Uniformed Thrift Savings Plan
If you participated in the Uniformed Thrift Savings Plan (UTSP) while you were on active service, you have several options available, including:
- Leave your money in the UTSP. If your money remains in the UTSP, it will continue to accrue earnings. Although you will not be able to make additional contributions, you will be able to make interfund transfers. You must begin withdrawing from your account no later than April 1st of the year following the year you turn 70.
- Receive a single payment. All or a portion of your account can be transferred to a traditional IRA or eligible employer plan (e.g., a 401(k) plan or your civilian UTSP account).
- Request a series of monthly payments based on a dollar amount or your life expectancy. All or a portion of certain monthly payments can be transferred to a traditional IRA or eligible employer plan.
- Request a UTSP annuity. You must have at least $3,500 in your account in order to purchase an annuity.
Legal Assistance for Separating Service Members
If you have legal problems, either on or off the installation, legal assistance is available at your place of separation. Contact your installation’s Transition Office for referral to a Legal Assistance Officer. This service is not available to you once you leave the military, so you must seek it before you separate.
Retirees can use the base legal office on a space-available basis. Depending on the location, there could be a lengthy wait to see a legal representative. Retirees should contact the base legal office as far in advance as possible to ensure that services will be available.
After your separation from active service, you will have the opportunity to join the Selected Reserve or the National Guard. Doing so will allow you to retain many of your military benefits. If you are voluntarily separating from active service prior to fulfilling your contracted term of service, you can satisfy that obligation by becoming a member of the Ready Reserve in one of the following categories:
Selected Reserve: You may voluntarily affiliate with the Selected Reserve, either with a National Guard or Reserve unit, or a Reserve individual program.
Inactive National Guard: If you served in the Army, you may become a member of the Army National Guard, and request transfer to the Inactive National Guard if you are unable to participate in regular unit training.
Individual Ready Reserve (IRR): If you do not affiliate with one of the above programs, your service department will automatically assign you to the Individual Ready Reserve.
If you have served eight years or more of active duty, you may no longer have a military service obligation and do not have to affiliate with the National Guard or Reserves. You may, however, elect to continue your military service by affiliating with a Reserve component. Before you separate from active service, explore your Reserve options in the geographic area in which you plan to live after separation.
To sign up for Reserve duty while you are still on active service, contact your installation’s Reserve Component Transition Office. To do so after you have separated, contact the nearest Reserve or National Guard unit listed in your local telephone directory. Any recruiting office can direct you to the appropriate recruiter. You can also refer to the following websites:
U.S. Air National Guard: www.goang.com
U.S. Air Force Reserves: www.afreserve.com
U.S. Army National Guard: www.1800goguard.com
U.S. Army Reserves: www.army.mil/usar or www.goarmyreserve.com
U.S Coast Guard Reserves: www.uscg.mil/
U.S. Marine Corps: www.marforres.usmc.mil or www.mfr.usmc.mil
U.S. Navy Reserve: www.navyreserve.mil
Once you separate from active service, you transform from “service member” to “veteran” status. For most purposes, the VA assumes jurisdiction from the DoD over your health care and service-related benefits. The VA is responsible for ensuring that you, as a veteran, receive the care, support, and recognition that you have earned. The VA, along with state, county, and local agencies are there to assist you in your transition from military to civilian life.
VA Medical Care
The VA’s health care delivery program is one of the largest integrated health care systems in the nation. The system includes hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, domiciliaries, readjustment counseling centers and specialty care centers and clinics. The system is organized in regional groups called “Veterans Integrated Service Networks” (VISN). The VISNs are designed to pool and align resources to better meet local health care needs and provide greater access to care. VA health care is provided in the form of a “medical benefits package,” which includes preventative care (e.g., immunizations, examinations, screening, health education programs), hospital care (e.g., emergency inpatient care, inpatient diagnostic testing, surgery, inpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment), outpatient/ambulatory care (e.g., emergency outpatient care, diagnostic testing, medical, surgical, mental health and substance abuse, chiropractic care, and bereavement counseling), as well as prescription medication, equipment and supplies.
Eligibility requirements are based on active duty service in the armed forces. National Guard members and reservists who have been called to active duty are eligible as well. Service members, including Guard and Reserve personnel, who have served on active duty in a theater of combat operations have special eligibility for VA inpatient, outpatient, and nursing home care for two years following their separation from active service.
In order to receive treatment from the VA, veterans must first enroll in the system. The enrollment application (VA Form 10-10EZ) can be obtained from any VA health care facility or regional office. While the VA recommends that all veterans who desire VA medical services formally enroll, there are certain categories of veterans that are automatically eligible for treatment. These include: veterans seeking care for a disability that has already been service-connected, veterans with at least one disability rated at 50% or more, and veterans who, within 12 months of their military discharge, seek care for a disability that the military has determined was incurred in, or aggravated by, military service, but which the VA has not yet rated.
Unfortunately, due to limited resources, the VA allocates medical care according to a classification of designated “Priority Groups.” Under the priority group system, veterans who have been granted service connection for their disabilities and those whose incomes are below prescribed levels, receive treatment before other veterans. The following is a summary of the VA health care priority groups.
Group 1: Veterans with service-connected disabilities rated 50 percent or more and veterans in receipt of TDIU.
Group 2: Veterans with service-connected disabilities rated 30 or 40 percent.
Group 3: Veterans with service-connected disabilities rated 10 and 20 percent, veterans who are former prisoners-of-war or were awarded a Purple Heart, veterans awarded special eligibility for disabilities incurred in treatment or participation in a VA Vocational Rehabilitation program, and veterans whose discharge was for a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.
Group 4: Veterans receiving aid and attendance or housebound benefits, and veterans determined by VA to be catastrophically disabled. Some veterans in this group may be responsible for co-payments.
Group 5: Veterans receiving VA pension benefits or who are eligible for Medicaid, nonservice-connected veterans and veterans who have a service- connected disability rated at 0% (non-compensable rating), and veterans whose annual income and net worth are below the established VA means test thresholds. See www.va.gov for the current threshold.
Group 6: Veterans of the Mexican border period or World War I; veterans seeking care solely for certain conditions associated with exposure to radiation or exposure to herbicides while serving in Vietnam, illnesses associated with combat service in a war after the first Gulf War or during a period of hostility after Nov. 11, 1998, for any illness associated with participation in tests conducted by the Department of Defense as part of Project 112/Project SHAD (Shipboard Hazard and Defense); and veterans with 0% service-connected disabilities who are receiving disability compensation benefits due to multiple 0% ratings.
Group 7: Non service-connected veterans and 0% rated service-connected veterans with income above VA’s national means test threshold and below VA’s geographic means test threshold, or with income below both the VA national threshold and the VA geographically based threshold, but whose net worth exceeds VA’s ceiling who agree to pay co-payments. See www.va.gov for current thresholds and ceilings.
Group 8: All other nonservice-connected veterans and 0%, non-compensable service-connected veterans who agree to pay co-payments.
Effective Jan. 17, 2003, VA no longer enrolls new veterans in Priority Group 8. Veterans previously enrolled in Group 8 (veterans with income above a threshold level and who agreed to higher co-payment levels) will continue to be enrolled.
Eligibility for VA health care is dependent upon a number of factors, which may influence the final determination of the services for which you qualify. These factors include the character of your discharge from military service (e.g., honorable, other than honorable, dishonorable), length of service, your veteran status so that you can be placed into the appropriate priority group. As discussed below, quite often an award of VA service-connected disability compensation is the gateway to VA health care.
The VA Compensation and Pension Programs
The first step in obtaining VA disability compensation is establishing that a current disability is service-connected. This means that the disability had its onset during active military service, or that a disability that existed prior to a veteran’s entry into active military service was aggravated during service beyond the natural progression of the underlying disease or condition. Once service connection has been established, the VA will review the most recent medical evidence and evaluate the current level of the severity of the symptoms associated with the disability. The VA will then issue a rating (sometimes called a disability “evaluation”), expressed in a percentage of the amount of disability caused by the disease or disorder. This percentage rating determines the amount of monthly compensation paid.
Eligibility for VA disability compensation generally requires the satisfaction of three fundamental requirements. First, there must be a medical diagnosis of a current disease or disorder. Second, there must be medical, or sometimes non-medical (called “lay”), evidence that such disease or disorder had its onset during active military service, or that a pre-existing disease or disorder was aggravated during such service. Third, there must be medical evidence of a linkage (called a “nexus”) between military service and a current disease or disorder. The standard that the VA uses to determine if the medical nexus requirement has been satisfied is whether the medical evidence of record demonstrates that it is “as likely as not” that the current disability is related to the veteran’s military service.
In the context of a claim for benefits based on the residuals of a spinal cord injury, a disease or other disorder of the spinal cord, there must be medical records (e.g., hospital records, doctor’s office or medical clinic records) that reflect a diagnosis of a current disease or disorder of the spinal cord. A doctor’s letter that discusses the veteran’s diagnosis and treatment will also satisfy the current diagnosis requirement. Next, there must be a notation in the veteran’s military service medical records that reflects complaints, treatment, diagnostic test results (such as x-rays) or diagnoses that relate to a spinal cord injury, disease or disorder. Obviously, service records that document an injury to the back or general trauma to the body will satisfy the onset or aggravation during service requirement. Finally, there must be a doctor’s statement, or opinion, to the effect that it is at least as likely as not that a current spinal cord disease or disorder is related to an injury, the onset of a disease or disorder, or the aggravation of a pre-service disease or disorder, during military service. If evidence satisfying all three elements of service connection is present, the VA must award service connection for the claimed disability.
The VA also provides disability benefits for veterans who do not have any service-connected disorders. VA nonservice-connected (NSC) pension benefits are available where the veteran had at least 90 days of active military service, at least one day of service was during a period of war, the veteran’s military discharge was under conditions other than dishonorable and there is medical evidence that the veteran is totally disabled as the result of a disability not caused by their own willful misconduct. NSC pension is income-based, meaning that the veteran’s household (rather than individual) income cannot exceed the maximum annual amount set by the VA each year. Thus, a NSC pension is designed to bring the veteran’s total annual household income to the level of the maximum annual amount. There is a dollar-for-dollar offset between the amount of the pension and the veteran’s income, including retirement pension and Social Security benefits, although there are certain types of expenses that can be deducted from the veteran’s countable income, such as unreimbursed medical expenses. The current maximum annual amount is available at www.va.gov.
Even if a veteran is preparing or has filed a claim for VA disability compensation, he or she can submit a claim for a NSC pension, provided that he or she satisfies the eligibility requirements. NSC pension claims are generally processed faster than disability compensation claims and, if granted, can provide a source of income until the compensation claim has been adjudicated. NSC pension benefits will end if based on the same disability underlying a subsequent award of service-connected compensation and the dollar amount of monthly compensation is greater than the monthly pension payment. If not, the veteran may elect to keep the NSC pension in place.
To file a claim for VA disability compensation or a NSC pension, you must complete and file VA Form 21-256 (“Application for Disability Compensation or Pension Benefits”), which is available at the VA website, www.va.gov.
Veterans (Vet) Centers
The VA’s Readjustment Counseling Service operates Vet Centers nationwide, which provide readjustment counseling and outreach services to all veterans who served in any combat zone. Services are also available for family members as well for military-related issues. Readjustment counseling includes individual and group counseling, marital and family counseling, bereavement counseling, medical referrals, assistance in applying for VA benefits, employment counseling, substance abuse counseling and referral, information and referral to community resources, military sexual trauma counseling referral, as well as outreach and community education. To find your local Vet Center, use the Vet Center Directory at www.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter.asp or call 1-800-905-4675 (Eastern) and 1-866-496-8838 (Pacific).
State Veterans Benefits
Many states offer veterans benefits in addition to those offered by the VA. These benefits may include educational grants and scholarships, special exemptions or discounts on fees and taxes, home loans, veteran’s homes, free hunting and fishing privileges, and more. Each state manages its own benefit programs. Go to www.va.gov/vso/index.cfm?template=view&SortCategory=3 to view the directory of websites for each of the individual states that offer veterans benefits.
VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Program
The VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program assists service members, veterans, and certain family members with service-connected disabilities to prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment and to achieve independence in daily living. VR&E services include vocational and personal counseling (which includes helping veterans to find a desired career path), education and training, financial aid, job assistance, and, if needed, medical and dental treatment. These services are available for up to 48 months, but they can be extended under certain circumstances. The VA will pay for education and training costs, including tuition, fees, books, supplies and equipment. Eligible veterans will also receive a monthly subsistence allowance to assist with living expenses. Detailed information about VA vocational rehabilitation and education can be found at www.vetsuccess.gov/.
Generally, eligibility requires that you must first be awarded a monthly VA disability compensation payment. In some cases, you may be eligible if you aren’t getting VA compensation. For example, if you are awaiting discharge from the service because of a disability you may be eligible for vocational rehabilitation. In addition, you must have served on or after September 16, 1940, your service-connected disability is rated at least 20 percent disabling, you suffer from an employment handicap and, generally, it has been less than 12 years since the VA’s award of service-connection for your disability.
It is possible to become eligible for VA&E services even if your service-connected disability is rated as only 10 percent disabling, but the VA must first determine that you have a serious employment handicap.
To apply for VR&E benefits, you must submit VA Form 28-1900 (“Disabled Veterans Application for Vocational Rehabilitation”) and submit it to your local VA regional office. You can also apply online at vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp
Contacting the VA
The VA has 58 regional offices and more than 17O VA medical centers nationwide and in the Philippines. In addition, there are numerous outpatient clinics, vet centers and national cemeteries. The VA’s toll-free telephone number is 1-800-827-1000 that will connect you to the VA regional office nearest the location that you are calling from. You can also visit the VA’s website at www.va.gov.
Medical Care for Family Members and Survivors
The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) is designed to help pay for medical services and supplies for veterans’ family members and survivors. It works essentially as a health insurance carrier by paying for eligible health care expenses for eligible family members, up to certain levels. Like most health insurance plans, premium payments are required. Premiums may be waived, however, if the veteran becomes totally disabled before his or her 65th birthday and remains so for at least six consecutive months.
To qualify for CHAMPVA coverage, family members and survivors must not be eligible for Medicare or TRICARE. The following list describes those family members who are eligible for CHAMPVA coverage:
- The spouse or child of a veteran who has a permanent and total service-connected disability;
- The surviving spouse or child of a veteran who died as a result of a service-connected condition;
- The surviving spouse of child of a person who died while on active military service in the line of duty; and
- A surviving spouse who remarries may qualify for care under CHAMPVA after the subsequent marriage is terminated.
For details and submitting new healthcare claims, contact:
VA Health Administration Center
P.O. Box 65024
Denver, CO 80206-9024
Toll free: 1-800-733-8387
You can also visit the CHAMPVA website at http://www.va.gov/hac/forbeneficiaries/champva/champva.asp.
Challenging Your Character of Discharge
Eligibility for many VA benefits, including disability compensation and NSC pension, require that you separated from active service with an honorable discharge. A less than honorable discharge may result in your being barred from such benefits. The Departments of the Army, Air Force, and Navy (which includes the Marine Corps), and the Coast Guard each have their own discharge review boards (DRB). The DRBs have the authority to modify or correct any discharge or dismissal from the service, unless it was the result of a general court martial. DRBs, however, have no jurisdiction over medical discharges. If you believe that your character of discharge (e.g., dishonorable, other than honorable, general) was made in error, you may request a discharge review using DD Form 293 (“Application for Review of Discharge or Separation from the Armed Forces of the United States/Application for the Review of Discharge or Dismissal from the Armed Forces of the United States”). This form is available at: www.veterans.ocgov.com/forms/DD-293.pdf. The request can also be filed by your next-of-kin or a legal representative. The deadline for filing an application for a DRB review is within 15 years after separation from active service.
Each service department also has a Boards of Correction for Military Records (BCMR). Review by a BCMR is available if an application for a discharge review is received within three years of your reasonable discovery of the error (i.e., when your should have discovered the error, as opposed to when you actually discovered it). You should, however, first apply to the DRB if your DRB 15-year application period has not expired. Please see your service department website for BCMR application forms and procedures.
Missing Medals, Ribbons or Awards
Before you separate from active service, you should check your records and your collection of military awards, medals, ribbons, badges, and other distinguished insignia. If you believe that you are entitled to additional awards or decorations that you have not received, or that you are missing any decorations, certificates, etc., that you have been awarded, contact your unit personnel officer about obtaining new awards or decoration, or replacements. In the former case, ask your unit personnel officer for the service regulation that governs the eligibility requirements for the award or decoration.
You may also purchase lost ribbons and medals from your military exchange, however, you must have proof that you are entitled to them. Replacement medals and ribbons can be also obtained for a small fee from the NPRC. See www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/replacement-medals.html for more information.
Once you have separated from service, you may request the issuance or replacement of medals, decorations, and awards through your service department. You can use the SF 180 (“Request Pertaining to Military Records”) to request medals and awards, as well as your service records. See www.vetrecs.archives.gov.
The Last Word
Change is never an easy process. Transitioning from military to civilian life is not just a change in employment, but a change in culture and lifestyle as well. We hope that you have found this guide to be helpful as you plan for your separation from active service.
We wish you all of the best in your future endeavors. Good luck!