Veterans Service Organizations for Benefits Claims Assistance, Career Guidance, and More

Making the transition from the military world back to the civilian world is a difficult task. The problem is compounded if you are a still recovering from combat, recuperating from wounds, moving to a new location, transitioning with a family to take care of, and many other factors. The good news is there are dozens of agencies and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) that were created to help veterans and their families, or their survivors.

Many of these organizations offer veterans a variety of services, including VA disability benefits claims assistance, education and job training, job fairs, resume writing services, financial grants, opportunities to participate in community service projects, and more. In most cases, these services are free. The best part is you get to tap into the experience and expertise of service officers who have been there, done that, walk the walk, talk the talk, and know how and where to get help. If these organizations can’t help you, they can certainly put you into contact with someone who can.

Veteran Service Organizations Offer You Assistance

Veteran Service Organizations are one of the best places for veterans to go for help. There are hundreds of VSOs out there, including organizations at the local, state, regional, and national levels. Please note this is not a comprehensive list of every Veteran Service Organization. The VA has a published guide that is 128 pages long, which is too long to cover here.

Instead of recreating that list, we decided to focus on some of the largest and most well-known VSOs. This list includes some of the larger national VSOs that focus on helping veterans with VA Benefits Claims, career guidance and job placement, and similar programs that are applicable to almost all veterans.

Get Individualized Assistance. Service Officers at these organizations can help you review your benefits eligibility to see which benefits programs you may be eligible to receive. They will go through your service records, medical records, and other information you provide, and they will help you identify which benefits you are eligible to receive or which programs you may be eligible to participate in. They can also help you file a VA benefits claim for a service-connected disability, place a claim education or training benefits, and more. Some of these VSOs also offer grants, training, scholarships, and other forms of assistance.

VSO’s – Help Filing VA Claims and More

Here is a list of nationally recognized VSO. Many of the following organizations have state and local branches, which makes them easier to visit in-person. Visit their websites or give them a call to see if you can benefit from their services, or if you can volunteer your services to their organization.

American LegionAmerican Legion: The American Legion was chartered in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. The American Legion is one of the largest military organizations, with over 2.4 million members at over 14,000 posts. They offer a wide range of programs that extend to local communities up to the national level, where they lobby on behalf of our nation’s veterans. Some of the benefits programs they offer include:

American Veterans AMVETSAMVETS – American Veterans: AMVETS was founded in 1944, and by 1947, it was chartered by Congress as the first WWII veterans organization. Their mission continues today as they welcome anyone who is currently serving, or who has hon­or­ably served, in the U.S. Armed Forces from World War II to the present, to include the National Guard and Reserves. AMVETS has a strong lobbying presence where they lobby for veterans benefits, adequate VA funding, services for homeless veterans, con­cur­rent receipt of retire­ment pay and dis­abil­ity com­pen­sa­tion by dis­abled mil­i­tary retirees, vet­er­ans employ­ment and train­ing, POW/MIA account­abil­ity and flag protection. Some of the benefits they offer veterans include:

  • Free Assistance for compensation and benefits claims
  • Transition Assistance,
  • Career Centers,
  • Scholarships for high school seniors, ROTC students, and veterans pursuing higher education,
  • Other programs,
  • Learn more at

Disabled American Veterans DAVDisabled American Veterans (DAV): The DAV stretches back to 1920, when it was formed as an organization to support wounded World War I veterans. Today, the DAV continues to serve disabled veterans, their families, their widowed spouses, and their orphans through lobbying efforts and a variety of benefits and assistance, including:

  • Filing a VA Benefits Claim,
  • Transition Assistance benefits claims,
  • Transportation to and from VA and other appointments,
  • Job search assistance,
  • Outreach programs and information seminars,
  • Disaster relief,
  • Assistance for homeless veterans,
  • and much more.
  • Learn more at

Iraq Afghanistan Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica (IAVA)Iraq Afghanistan Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica (IAVA): The IAVA exists to improve the lives of those who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. IAVA hosts hundreds of events nationwide each year, creating opportunities for vets and their families to connect with each other and gain access to customized health care, education and employment services. Additional services include transition assistance through the Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP), which provides individualized assistance or referrals for:

  • Disability Claims,
  • Education Benefits,
  • Mental Health,
  • Financial Assistance,
  • Employment Services,
  • Housing Services,
  • And more.
  • Learn more at

Veterans of Foreign Wars VFWVeterans of Foreign Wars (VFW): The VFW traces its roots back to 1899, following the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. Today the VFW and its Auxiliaries have over 2 million members who contribute to their local communities. The VFW also offers the following assistance benefits:

  • Filing a VA Benefits Claim,
  • Separation Benefits,
  • Assistance claiming education benefits,
  • Veterans Scholarships,
  • Financial Aid – up to $2,500 financial assistance through the Unmet Needs program,
  • And more.
  • Learn more at

Vietnam Veterans of America - VVAVietnam Veterans of America (VVA). The VVA features over 600 local chapters in 43 states. They offer fellowship, volunteer opportunities, and community service, lobbying at the national level, and other programs. The VVA also offers one-on-one benefits counseling and claims assistance through a veteran Service Officer. Learn more at

Wounded Warrior ProjectWounded Warrior Project: The WWP provides a variety of benefits and assistance programs for servicemembers who were injured or wounded in military service after September 11, 2001. The WWP offers programs to help veterans get over the stress of combat, improve their health and wellness, find work, and engage in their community. You can learn more at the Wounded Warrior Programs page.

More Recommendations? As we mentioned, this is only a partial list of national organizations that focus on helping veterans with VA benefits claims, career guidance, and similar objectives. Feel free to download the VA list for a more comprehensive overview of different VSOs. We will also be happy to add other national Veterans Service Organizations that focus on the aforementioned topics. Let us know which organizations you recommend and we will add them to this list.

Images: Each of these emblems and logos are owned by their respective organization.

AAFES Coupon Guide – How to Save Big at the Exchanges

The Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) offers eligible shoppers tax free shopping opportunities. Shopping at the Base Exchange is a great way to save money on a variety of everyday items, big ticket items, and other purchases. The PX and BX can also be a life-saver when you are stationed overseas. I remember frequenting the BX when I was station in the UK. Shopping out on the economy was fun, but it was also expensive! Having the Base Exchange nearby made it easy to stay within my means.

A good way to save even more money is with coupons. I’ve always been a fan of using my resources the best way possible, and coupons are an excellent way to do that. Here are a few tips for maximizing your coupons when shopping at AAFES.

AAFES Coupon Guide

AAFES Coupon GuideAs you would expect, there are some rules and limitations to the types of coupons AAFES accepts. Thankfully, the AAFES website breaks it down for us. In general, AAFES has a fairly liberal coupon acceptance policy compared to many US companies. In general, the following types of coupons are accepted:

  • Manufacturer’s Coupons: Must state “Manufacturer’s coupon”, “Military Coupon”, or “Military Store Coupon” (no “Commissary Only” coupons accepted); item must be identical to coupon description; must have a scannable bar code, expiration date, and valid address for redemption; Can be combined with a price match and one Exchange coupon (unless either coupon states otherwise); cannot exceed value of item purchased; must be an original coupon (no photocopies); can be accepted up to 6 months past expiration date at OCONUS locations
  • Internet (print-at-home) Manufacturer Coupons: Same rules as above, plus: No coupons for free items with no purchase requirements (BOGO coupons are accepted); can be color or black and white; One Internet coupon per purchase; Can be combined with Exchange coupon unless prohibited by either coupon; cannot be combined with other coupons.
  • Exchange FaceBook Coupons: These coupons are only valid at Exchanges – they are not manufacturer coupons. Selection varies by location and sales are limited to stock on hand. Limit one per purchase. May be combined with manufacturer’s coupons unless either coupon prohibits this. Valid at all Exchange locations; however the expiration date is finite, including for overseas locations.
  • Buy One Get One Free Coupons (BOGO): Manufacturer’s BOGO coupons cannot be stacked with another manufacturer’s coupon (multiple coupons for the same purchase; for example, you save a dollar on a purchase with one coupon, then also use a BOGO coupon on the same purchase). Manufacturer’s BOGO coupons can be stacked with a cents off Exchange coupon unless prohibited by either coupon, and vice versa – Exchange BOGO coupons can be stacked with a cents off Manufacturer’s coupon unless prohibited by either coupon. You can use multiple BOGO coupons if you purchase multiple items (unless prohibited – some coupons limit one BOGO per customer).
  • Local Competitor’s Copuons: Local Competitor’s Coupons are part of the We Price Match policy. Coupons must include a specific price and an expiration date to verify it is a current promotion. One manufacturer’s and one Exchange coupon may be applied after the final sales price is determined unless either coupon prohibits.
  • Combining Coupons with the We Price Match Policy: The price adjustment through the We Price Match policy will be the first discount applied. You can then apply one manufacturer and one Exchange coupon (unless prohibited by either coupon). You can a use manufacturer’s coupon that states, “cannot be combined with any other offer,” in conjunction with a price match, but not with any other coupons.

Verdict – AAFES has a generous coupon policy: Most of these rules are common sense and are actually quite generous. You won’t find many other stores or organizations allowing you to use more than one coupon on a purchase, or that will price match a competitor and still allow you to apply two more coupons to your purchase. About the only thing you won’t find price matching for is online only deals. You won’t be able to price match with, or other stores that are only available online.

AAEFES Downloadable and Printable Coupons

AAFES Printable CouponFollowing the Exchange FaceBook page is a great way to find coupons only available at the Exchange. They regularly publish fliers and coupons you can print from your computer. They also have exclusive giveaways for merchandise and gift cards, and announcements for special events, grand openings, and other news.

Another great place to find downloadable coupons is the Exchange PCS center, where you can find a new set of coupons each month. I remember receiving a coupon book when I PCS’d when I was on active duty. These were typically given to us when we in-processed the base. Now you can download them directly from the AAFES website, print them from home, and use them when you are ready. (Note: Some of the coupons state you must present your PCS orders when you redeem the coupon, however, not all of these coupons have this requirement).

AAFES Mobile Savings

You can save money by signing up for text messages from AAFES. To do this, you should text “Exchange” to 95613. You will receive a welcome message, then begin receiving text messages with coupons. You may receive up to one text per day, so keep this in mind when signing up for this service. Reply “Stop” to the same number to stop receiving these messages.

AAFES Exclusive Savings Notifications – Exchange Buddy List

The Exchange just released a new service called the Exchange Buddy List, which is a weekly email that delivers the latest news for deals and savings. This weekly email includes savings, promos, events, and other offers at your local Exchange. This list is now available worldwide. To sign up, simply visit the link above, select your location, and sign up for the weekly newsletter. This is a great way to keep up to date with the events at your local BX/PX!

Keep an Eye Out for Other Coupons

AAFES often advertises in base newspapers and newspapers like Stars and Stripes. You can often find fliers and printed coupons in these periodicals. Be sure to keep an eye out for these coupons because the savings can be helpful.

Not for the Faint of Heart: The Military Star Card

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the savings you can get for opening a Military Star Card. I opened a Military Star Card when I was in the Air Force and saved an immediate 10% off my first purchase. I was also smart enough to pay it off in full and only use it when I could do that every month. The Military Star Card often gives users other savings, depending on current promotions. I only recommend the Military Star Card, or any other credit card as an option if you have the discipline to pay it off in full each month. You aren’t saving any money if you are paying finance charges! If you have the discipline to pay your balance in full each month, then the Military Star Card or other cash back credit cards can be a great way to save more money on your everyday purchases.

TRICARE for Life Pharmacy Pilot – Mail Order Prescription Requirement

We have recently received a few emails from some readers affected by a new mandate under the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, the TRICARE for Life Pharmacy Pilot, which went into effect on Feb. 14, 2014. The TFL Pharmacy Pilot requires TRICARE for Life members to refill their prescription medications at Military Treatment Facilities (MFTs) or via the mail order system. Prescription medication refills done at a retail pharmacy may be ineligible for reimbursement. This only applies to maintenance medications, and not for medications to treat acute illnesses. (There are some exceptions; read on).

Here is some more information to see if this applies to you, and how it would affect you.

TRICARE for Life Pharmacy Pilot Program

You could pay more for your next prescription refill.

Who is affected: This only affects TRICARE for Life members who are using affected medications. This does not apply to TFL members who have other prescription coverage. It also does not affect active duty members or retirees under TRICARE Prime.

Which medications are affected? This only applies to maintenance medications, and not for medications to treat acute illnesses. Maintenance medications are those usually used to treat chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and similar chronic conditions. Medications prescribed for acute conditions, such as antibiotics, pain killers, etc. are unaffected by this pilot program. Here is a list of affected medications.

How the Pilot Works

You will receive a notification from Express Scripts informing you if you will need to participate in the Pilot program. When you fill a prescription for a medication covered by the Pilot at a network pharmacy, you’ll get a letter from Express Scripts. When you receive the letter, you will need to review your prescription refill options and decide how you want to refill your prescriptions in the future.

If you fill your prescription a second time at a network pharmacy, you’ll get another letter from Express Scripts about switching to Home Delivery. If you fill your prescription a third time at a network pharmacy, you’re responsible to pay 100% of the cost.

Options for Refilling Your Prescriptions

You can refill your prescription medications through these means:

  • Home delivery: You can set this up by calling the Member Choice Center at 1-877-882-3335, or by requesting your provider to fax your prescription to Express Scripts at 1-877-895-1900. You can also set it up online at Express Scripts.
  • Fill your prescriptions at a Military Pharmacy: Prescriptions filled at military pharmacies are free, however, military pharmacies have different regulations for transferring prescriptions, and may not stock all medications covered under this Pilot Program. Call ahead to determine if this is the best option for you.
  • Use generic medications: Most generic drugs aren’t covered on the Pilot program and can continue to be filled at retail pharmacies for $5. This is still relatively low cost and may be more convenient in some circumstances.
  • Continue filling your prescriptions at a Network Pharmacy: This is the most costly option, as you will be required to pay 100% of the drug refill cost after your third prescription refill at a retail pharmacy.

Waivers may be available in limited circumstances. Some TFL members may be eligible for waivers from the Pilot program, depending on circumstances. Examples include emergencies, hardship, or special circumstances such as living in a nursing home. As you might expect, waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis. Here is more information on qualifying for a waiver from the Pilot program.

How to ensure your prescription medication is reimbursed: The best way to ensure your prescriptions will be reimbursed is to fill your prescriptions at a Military Treatment Facility or get it refilled through the mail. Refills can be ordered by calling 1-877-363-1303 or by going online at Express Scripts.

Everyone Saves Money Under This Pilot Program

The primary driver for this program is to reduce costs for everyone involved. The government spends approximately 17% less on mail order prescription refills compared to retail orders. TRICARE recipients also spend less money when refilling prescriptions at an MTF or through the mail. A generic 90-day refill is free via the mail, but incurs a $5 copay for a 30-day prescription when filled at a retail location. Name brand prescription refills are $13 by mail for a 90-day prescription, or $17 for a 30-day prescription. (More about TRICARE Pharmacy co-pay costs).

The savings adds up for both parties. Individuals could save $15 on a generic refill for a 90-day prescription, or $38 on a name-brand refill for a 90-day prescription. The government determined they could save approximately $120 million per year if all medications were filled via mail or MTFs vs. being filled at retail pharmacy locations.

But the change does require some additional planning on your end if you are affected by this change. You will now need to plan your prescription refills a little more closely if you do not live near a military base. Otherwise, a last minute trip to the neighborhood pharmacy could prove costly.

Opting Out of the Pilot Program

The TRICARE for Life Pharmacy Pilot is currently slated to last 5 years. TFL beneficiaries are able to opt out of the mail-order program after one year, starting from the date they made their first prescription refill under the program.

Navy Tuition Assistance Progam Benefits (Updated for FY 2014)

The US Navy offers its Sailors a Tuition Assistance (TA) program to provide funds for off-duty education programs. This is an incredibly valuable benefit as furthering your education can help you gain promotions while you are still in the service, as well as help you find a higher paying job when you retire or otherwise leave the military.

US Navy Tuition Assistance Benefits

Are you using your Tuition Assistance Benefits?

The Navy Tuition Assistance program has undergone some small changes recently, and what follows are the rules and TA rates for FY 2014. Approval is required before you will be able to use TA funds, so be sure to read all the fine print and contact your education office if you have more questions.

Let’s dive in and take a look at what the US Navy Tuition Assistance program offers, who is eligible, which educational programs are covered, and how to take advantage of this valuable benefit.

2014 Navy Tuition Assistance Benefits Updates

The following rates are effective immediately, and are in place from October 1, 2013, through September 30, 2014. The rates after that will depend on the approved Navy budget (though it looks like things will be the same in 2015).

2014 Tuition Assistance Rates: The Navy Tuition Assistance Program pays for 100% of up-front costs associated with tuition and fees for course enrollments, up to the following rates:

  • $250.00 per semester hour, or
  • $166.67 per quarter hour, or
  • $16.67 per clock hour, AND
  • Maximum of 16 Semester Hours (24 Quarter Hours or 240 Clock Hours) per Fiscal Year
  • Max Benefit Per Fiscal Year: $4,000

Note: Though the Navy has done so in previous years, they are not currently accepting waivers to exceed the annual credit hour limit.

Navy Tuition Assistance Eligibility

Tuition Assistance benefits are available to both officers and enlisted personnel who are serving on active duty, as well as Reservists serving on continuous active duty. Eligibility is also extended to Enlisted Naval Reservists are called to active duty for at least 120 consecutive days, and to Naval Reservist Officers ordered to active duty for 2 years or more.

To qualify, servicemembers must:

  • Be on active duty for the whole length of the course.
  • Attend an institution accredited by a regional, national, or professional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Receive counseling from a Navy College Office or a Virtual Education Center counselor.
  • Provide all grades from previously funded TA courses and reimburse all W and F grades. (Withdrawals for involuntary reasons may be granted with command verification.)
  • Agree, if an officer, to remain on active duty for at least two years upon completion of courses funded by TA. This obligation runs concurrently with remaining obligated service time. Those who fail to serve the obligation must repay the TA funds expended on their behalf during the last two years of active duty on a pro-rated basis.

Eligible Study Programs and Other Restrictions: The Navy Tuition Assistance Program can be used for the completion of a high school diploma or equivalency certificate, certain certifications, and college level courses. Tuition Assistance benefits can only be used for a higher level degree plan than has already been achieved, unless specifically approved in advance. Here are some additional restrictions:

  • WebTA applications must be command approved, received by the VEC and approved/funded prior to the course start date.
  • TA cannot be used to pay for books, e-books, CD-ROMs, etc.
  • TA cannot be used to pay for flight training.
  • TA cannot be used by Naval Reservists if not on continuous active duty, by enlisted Naval Reservists if ordered to active duty less than 120 days, or by Naval Reservist Officers if ordered to active duty for less than 2 years or more.
  • TA cannot be used by those in a duty-under-instruction status or in an officer accession program involving full time instruction at a civilian institution.
  • TA will only be approved for courses scheduled for one academic term at a time.
  • TA will not be authorized for the same course previously funded by TA.
  • TA will not fund school enrollment fees.
  • TA will not fund active duty at their first permanent duty station for less than one year.
  • TA cannot be authorized for a lower or lateral level degree.

Overall, the list of restrictions for the Navy TA program are fewer than those of the Army and US Air Force, which both have restrictions on which types of courses can be taken, and have more restrictions regarding who is eligible to take courses with TA funding. On the flip side, the Army and Air Force both offer up to $4,500 in TA benefits per year.

Applying for Navy Tuition Assistance Benefits

Eligible Sailors need to contact their Navy College Office or the Virtual Education Center to first satisfy the requirement of receiving their educational counseling. This can be done in person, by phone, by email, or virtually, at You will work with an academic advisor to help construct an education plan and to determine which classes you will request TA funding for. Your academic advisor may recommend you take CLEP/DSST tests to gain college credit in lieu of taking the actual courses if applicable. This will help save you time and have additional funds available toward your credit limit cap each fiscal year. Taking college credit exams will also ensure more funds are available for others to take classes.

Allowable fees that can be funded under Tuition Assistance are:

  • Fees directly required for course enrollment may be combined with tuition. Navy will pay fees that are published, mandatory, and charged for course enrollment not to exceed the caps of $250.00 per semester hour/$166.67 per quarter hour/$16.67 per clock hour.
  • Mandatory non-reimbursable fees meeting the criteria listed above may be funded with TA. However, if the course is canceled allowing the tuition to be refunded, the student is responsible for paying the non-reimbursable fee.
  • Sailors requesting payment of fees with tuition are responsible for providing accurate fee information to their Navy College Office or Virtual Education Center when applying for TA.

Effective 01 January 2014, in order to receive TA funding, WebTA applications must be command approved before benefits will be paid. It is recommended you submit your WebTA application at least 30 days prior to your course start date.

Alternative Ways to Pay for College

There is a $4,000 annual Tuition Assistance benefit cap per fiscal year, which may or may not be enough to cover your degree plan. If you find yourself running out of funds, you may be able to continue your education with a little creative planning. The first tip is to determine of there are any college placement exams that will work with your degree plan. Not all colleges accept these courses, so be sure to check with the education counselor at your college. Taking college placement exams such as the CLEP and DANTES exams helped me shave a year off my degree plan when I took classes on active duty. Many colleges and universities also offer credits for military training, potentially eliminating some required coursework from your degree plan.

Additional funding sources for college credits include utilizing the Montgomery GI Bill, Post-9/11 GI Bill, scholarships, grants, and other tuition assistance programs.

For more information, visit the Navy TA site here.

Photo credit: Defense Department graphic by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kayla Jo Finley/Released

MyCAA – Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts – What You Need to Know

Are you aware the military has a Tuition Assistance program for military spouses? Though some refer to it as the Spouse Tuition Assistance Program, it is officially known as the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account, or MyCAA. This program began in 2010 and is run through the Department of Defense. It is designed to help military spouses have better opportunities for employment – something that can be tricky when dealing with frequent deployments and relocations.

MyCAA Eligibility & Benefits

MyCAA Scholarship Military Spouse Tuition AssistanceUnfortunately, the MyCAA program is not open to every military spouse. It is only open to spouses of active duty servicemembers who are in the pay grades of E-1 through E-5, W-1 and W-2, and O-1 and O-2. Spouses of activated Guard members and reservists are also eligible for the program, provided the servicemember is on Titte-10 orders and the spouse will finish their sponsored courses before the service member is off Title-10 orders. Note: Spouses within all branches of the military are eligible, with the exception of Coast Guard spouses (this is a DoD program; the Coast Guard is covered under the Department of Homeland Security).

Here are some key points to the benefits:

  • $4,000 Max benefit: MyCAA participants are eligible to receive up to $4,000 in Tuition Assistance benefits, with a maximum of $2,000 per fiscal year.
  • Eligible Programs for Study: Participants are eligible to receive Tuition Assistance benefits for associate degrees, certifications, and licensures. These benefits cannot be used for advanced degrees or the completion of a bachelor’s degree.
  • 3 Year Limit: There is a requirement that the student must complete their study program within three years from the start date.

What is covered: The MyCAA benefits can be used for tuition for education and training courses, and licensing fees, to include certifications for teachers, medical professionals, and other professional certifications; licensing exams and preparatory courses; Continuing Education Units through professional associations; and degree programs leading to employment in a portable career field. MyCAA can also be used for GED tests, English as a Second Language, and some other classes.

What is not covered: The MyCAA program does not cover application or enrollment fees, lab fees, student ID cards, computer and technology fees, and many other associated education fees commonly found on college campuses.  Reimbursement for courses is not offered, so please ensure you have your MyCAA Financial Assistance (FA) document before enrolling in any courses.

Purpose of these limitations: There is a limited amount of funds to go around, so there have to be some limitations in place. The goal of the program is to help spouses of those servicemembers who likely need it the most. The program is limited to spouses of enlisted members through E-5, and junior officers. These are the folks who are generally younger and more likely to need a dual income household. The goal is to help make military spouses more employable. This is accomplished by limiting the TA benefits to programs that will result in an associate degree, certification, or an accredited license (there are many licenses which qualify; check with your education office for more information about available programs).

MyCAA Application Process

Eligible military spouses can begin the application process at the official MyCAA website. Spouses will need to create a profile, and their eligibility will be confirmed by linking their account with DEERS.  Once eligibility has been established, the spouse can then create a Career and Training Plan, which will need approval. As previously noted, the student must enroll in an education plan that will lead to a portable career (list of approved programs). The student can then request their Financial Assistance document within 30 days of the first class date. Spouses are required to apply to the school and enroll in the courses on their own.

You can also contact your school academic advisor for assistance. If they are unfamiliar with the program or you need additional assistance, then try contacting a Career and Education Consultant at Military OneSource. They can be reached at 1-800-342-9647 and can help you find a portable career that interests you, help you develop your Career and Training Plan, and help you navigate through the process.

Overall, this is a good plan to help spouses of junior military members get started on their degree plan or to obtain a license that can be used to help further their career.

Can the VA Reduce Your Disability Benefits?

When you are awarded a VA Service-Connected Disability rating, the VA retains the right to reexamine you to determine if your disability is still present and warrants the original rating. In short, it is possible for the VA to increase, reduce, or terminate, disability benefits based on a reexamination. But don’t let this scare you: not every veteran’s disability rating is scheduled for a reexamination, and not every rating will change.

For example, some service-connected disability ratings are considered protected, and will not be changed. Veterans with a P&T Rating (Permanent and Total) will usually not be scheduled for a reexamination. The same thing goes for injuries that are considered permanent or static. These include injuries that will never change, such as a missing limb.

Let’s take a look at VA Reexaminations to better understand the details of why, when, and how, the VA reexamines disability ratings, and whether or not your rating will be reviewed in the future. And if your VA disability rating is reviewed, keep in mind reviews work both ways: they can increase or decrease your rating, depending on supporting evidence and documentation.

Why the VA Reexamines Veterans with a Service-Connected Disability Rating

The why is easy to answer. Not all medical conditions are permanent. Some injuries heal over time, at least to some degree. The VA wants to ensure they are compensating you for your injuries at an appropriate rate. When you are assigned a disability rating, the VA also determines if they will want to reexamine you in the future. This typically only happens for injuries that have a reasonable expectation of improving over time. Reexaminations are usually scheduled within two to five years after the initial examinations, or they can take place any time there is material evidence in your change of condition. You will receive a Reexamination Letter detailing what will take place, and when.

Notice of Reexamination

The VA must send you a reexamination letter before they can change your service-connected disability rating. It’s essential that you attend this appointment, or work to reschedule it for a better time. If you don’t attend the appointment or provide supporting evidence for your case, the VA can reduce or terminate your benefits. The Notice of Reexamination should include contact information where you can reschedule your appointment if necessary.

The VA may send a Notice of Reexamination at  pre-scheduled interval (such as the aforementioned two to five years), or when they have material evidence there has been a change in your medical condition. This could be evidence that your situation has improved or disappeared. You have 30 days to request a hearing if you wish to contest the VA decision, and you have up to 60 days to submit evidence that a reduction in your rating is not warranted.

Keep in mind, the VA cannot reduce your service-connected disability rating without first sending you notice. Failure to do so on their end should result in a full reinstatement of your benefits.

When the VA Will Not Schedule You for a Reexamination

The VA will typically not request to reexamine your rating under the following conditions:

  • The veteran is over age 55.
  • The disability is static (such as a loss of limb).
  • The disability is considered permanent and is not expected to improve (e.g. blindness, deafness).
  • The disability is already at a minimum rating for that particular disability.
  • Reducing an individual rating would not affect the total combined disability rating.

These conditions are significant. The VA will not schedule are reexamination for permanent and static disabilities, so you can safely assume those ratings will remain the same. Age 55 is significant because it represents an age at which the VA assumes the veteran is too old to reasonably reenter the workforce (keep in mind VA disability ratings represent your ability to perform work at the level you were able to before you had the injury while you were serving in the military).

Finally, the VA will not look to reduce your VA disability rating when reducing one rating wouldn’t have a material impact on your overall disability rating. This applies to veterans with multiple medical conditions and disability ratings.

If you have been contacted by the VA to have your case reexamined and you meet any of the above criteria, then contact them with the phone number listed on your Notice of Reexamination and explain why you do not believe you should be reexamined. You may be able to have the reexamination canceled. The VA will not usually be able to reduce your disability rating without a reexamination, so your rating should be safe if you meet any of the above criteria.

Protected VA Disability Ratings

Certain VA disability benefits are considered Protected Ratings, according to the VA (though others say the term “protected” is a misnomer). This is where it helps to be able to find and read the appropriate regulations, or find an expert who can help you through the task. Here is a document that quotes some of the ratings protections for the 10 and 20 year rules (Word doc on VA site).

  • 5 year rule: If the rating has been in effect for 5 years, it cannot be reduced unless your condition has improved on a sustained basis (The VA must have documentation supporting this is a permanent improvement).
  • 10 year rule: A service connected disability rating cannot be terminated if it has been in effect for 10 years. Compensation can be reduced if evidence exists that the condition has improved. The sole exception is if the VA can prove fraud, in which case the VA can terminate the benefits.
  • 20 year rule: If the rating has been in effect for 20 years, it cannot be reduced below the lowest rating it has held for the previous 20 years. The only exception is if the VA can prove fraud.
  • 100% rule: The VA must prove your medical situation has materially improved and as a result, you are able to perform substantial work.

What do these protected ratings mean? Basically, if you have had a VA service-connected disability rating for 5 years or more, the VA must prove your condition has improved on a sustained basis before they can reduce or  terminate your disability rating. After 10 years, the VA can only reduce your rating; they cannot terminate it (absent proof of fraud). After 20 years, your rating cannot be reduced below the lowest rating you have held for the last 20 years. These distinctions are important, because some ratings can vary over the years, based on the medical condition.

For example, let’s say you have a knee injury that warrants a 30% disability rating when you complete your initial VA evaluation. After 5 years, the VA cannot reduce this rating below 30% unless they can prove the injury has healed on a sustained basis. If it has improved to the point the injury warrants a lower rating, or the injury no longer exists, the benefit can be reduced or terminated. After 10 years, the benefit can no longer be terminated, but it can be reduced if the VA can document substantial sustained health improvements. After 20 years at that rating, your benefit can no longer be reduced below its lowest rating or terminated (unless there is proof of fraud).

The 100% rule is much more difficult to have decreased. The VA must prove your health has materially improved, and you are now able to perform substantial work. If all of your injuries still leave you unemployable, then it is likely your benefit will not be reduced. Most veterans with a 100% rating have one or more major service-connected medical conditions, and possibly additional multiple less-severe injuries. The VA must prove the veteran is able to perform substantial work even with this assortment of medical conditions.

Reducing Your Disability Rating – VA Must Prove Change in Condition

The VA needs to establish substantial evidence of a change in condition before any change can occur to your service-connected disability rating. This puts the onus of the work on them. But you still need to be proactive to protect your rating. If the VA sends you a Notice of Reexamination, you need to show up for your scheduled appointment, or reschedule it, if possible. If you miss your scheduled appointment, the VA can reduce or terminate your rating without additional warning. Reestablishing your rating could take some time, or may be impossible, barring a legitimate reason for missing the appointment.

You can also request a hearing if the VA wishes to reduce your rating. You may find it helpful to enlist the help of a lawyer or your own medical professionals. You will want to ensure you have sufficient documentation to support your claims – whether you believe the rating should remain the same, or if it should be increased.

A Reexamination is Not the End of the World

A Notice of Reexamination can actually result in an increased disability rating if the situation warrants it. The VA will not go out of their way to increase your benefits rating for you. However, if the situation is warranted by your examination, then they will increase your disability rating. Keep this in mind if you are scheduled for a reexamination. It’s also important to understand that requesting an increase in disability ratings can result in a decrease if the VA can prove your medical condition has improved over time.

Bottom line: A VA disability rating is not always a static rating that will remain unchanged over the course of your lifetime. Your rating may remain unchanged, but it could also increase or decrease, depending on circumstances. If you feel there is a problem with your rating, it is best to find someone who specializes in VA disability claims and see if you can get them to help you with your claim.

2015 DoD Budget Consolidates TRICARE Plans, Increases Fees

The proposed 2015 military budget contains a few major changes that would replace the current TRICARE system with a consolidated system. The plan would basically eliminate the three current TRICARE programs (Prime, Extra, and Standard), and replace them with a single TRICARE plan that closely resembles TRICARE Standard. If passed, this new consolidated plan would include higher enrollment fees and more out of pocket expenses for many TRICARE beneficiaries. The government says these changes would also offer TRICARE recipients more choices regarding where they can receive their health care.

Here is an overview of the proposed changes:

  • Active duty: No change to benefits. Active duty members would continue to receive priority access to health care without any cost sharing. Active duty members would still require approval for off-base or civilian health care.
  • New Enrollment Fees (now called Participation Fees): Retirees, their families, and survivors or retirees would have a new participation fee of $286 for an individual, or $572 for a family. Electing not to pay the enrollment fee would result in forfeiting coverage for the plan year. Service members who are medically retired, and survivors of those who died while serving on active duty would be exempt from the participation fees, and would have reduced cost sharing.
  • Increased Catastrophic Caps: The enrollment fee would no longer count toward the catastrophic cap, and the cap for a family would be increased to $3,000 per person, or $5,000 per family.
  • New Cost Sharing: Cost shares will depend on several factors, including category of beneficiary (active, retired, medically retired, etc.), and where the beneficiary receives care. Costs will be lowest at military treatment facilities, higher in-network, and highest out-of-network.
  • Open Season Enrollment: Participants must choose to enroll for a 1-year benefits period or lose the opportunity for coverage.
  • Increased Co-pays for Prescriptions: Co-pays for brand-name prescription medications will cost $26 in 2015, and increase annually. They are expected to reach $45 by 2014. Generic medications would cost $14 by 2024. There would be no change for active duty members.
  • TRICARE for Life Enrollment Fees: TRICARE for Life participants would see enrollment fees based on their gross military retired pay. The fees would work out to 1% of base retirement pay in 2016; capped out at $300 per year, and $400 for Generals officers. By 2018 the enrollment fee would increase to 2% of retirement pay, capped at $600 and $800, respectively. Further increases will be based on inflation. Current TFL recipients would be grandfathered into the current system and will not pay enrollment fees.

Will TRICARE be Consolidated?

So far this is only a section of the 2015 budget proposal. But there is a good possibility some, or all of these proposals could be accepted. The bottom line is that the Department of Defense is faced with many tough decisions regarding the budget due to the Sequestration and pressure from Congress. Changes need to happen and they are looking at every possible avenue, including cutting weapons systems, reducing new weapon system acquisitions, Reductions In Force measures, cutting retirement benefits, and more.

Right now the best thing we can do is contact our lobbying groups and Congressional representatives to let them know how we feel about these proposals.

Sources: DoD 2015 Budget Overview,

Proposed 2015 Military Budget: 1% Pay Raise, 5% Decrease in BAH, Other Cuts

Update – June 3, 2014: Congress has made some changes to the original 2015 budget proposal, which included some austere cuts, including the possibility of eliminating Commissaries located on Stateside bases. The 1% raise for base pay looks like it will remain in effect.

The Department of Defense recently released a proposed military budget for 2015 (DoD). The results are along the lines of what we have come to expect lately: there will be budget cuts in order to reign in the DoD and federal budget. In the proposal, the strength of force will be reduced, weapon systems will be cut, and military pay raises will be capped at 1%, as they were in 2014. There is also an expected reduction of 5% for Basic Allowance for Housing. Other proposed cuts include consolidating health care plans and reducing commissary subsidies. Keep in mind everything that follows is still a proposal until signed into law.

Proposed Pay Raise – Just 1% for the Next 3 Years

The proposed 1% pay raise looks like it will be standard for the next few years, as the proposed 2015 military budget intends to extend a 1% pay raise for each of the next three years. The military would need to receive a 1.8% raise to match public sector wage growth over the last year. Military pay has always been, and will likely always be, a contentious issue. Military members received larger than normal pay raises through the first decade of the 2000′s. The goal was to bring military pay closer to civilian pay. Now, the government wants to slow down the rate of the pay raises. While a 1% pay raise isn’t much, it is better than no raise, which is what federal employees received for three years, from 2011 – 2013 (source). Hopefully the era of small pay raises will be short lived.

Expect to Pay More Out of Pocket for Your Housing

The 5% decrease in BAH is a bit of a misnomer as it isn’t a direct cut, and it won’t happen overnight. However, the proposed cuts are real, and are expected to take place over the next few years. The goal is to shift 5% of housing expenses to service members over the course of the next several years. Part of this will be accomplished by slowing down the cost of living increases. So it’s likely that BAH wouldn’t be decreased as much as it wouldn’t be increased to keep up with inflation. BAH Rates are protected through a Rate-Protection plan, which freezes BAH rates for military members who already live in a location. When the government reduces BAH rates, they are locked in for members who currently live in the area. BAH is only changed for new members who move to the area. So it is likely people wouldn’t see an actual decrease in their BAH until they PCS to another location.

The proposal also changes how BAH benefits are calculated. The current method includes the cost of renter’s insurance in the calculation. The new method will remove renter’s insurance from the calculations.

Proposed Commissary Cuts, But No Commissary Closures

As noted in the update at the top of the page, closing the Commissary closings appear to be shelved for the time being. However, there are expected to be some cuts to Commissary funding that may impact the Commissaries at some level. The important thing to understand is the goal is no longer to close Commissaries outright. It is important to know what was on the chopping block in the event this line item is brought back in future budget talks. The following paragraph discusses the previously discussed cuts.

Commissary cuts have been discussed at many levels, including the possible closure of US Commissaries. The 2015 budget proposal includes a $1 billion reduction in commissary subsidies over the next 3 years. To put this in perspective, that will leave the Commissary with less than 1/3 of their current budget of $1.4 billion. The Commissary offers shoppers savings of close to 30% on their purchases (By law Commissaries are required to sell items at cost, plus a 5% surcharge). Several proposals have been made to reduce the proposed subsidies and increase the Commissary surcharge in order to reduce the amount of subsidies required to keep the Commissaries open. This would shift some of the cost to shoppers, but would result in keeping the Commissary doors open.

Expect to Pay More for Prescription Drugs

This spring, TRICARE initiated a pilot program requiring TRICARE for Life beneficiaries to use the mail order system for maintenance medication used to treat chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and similar chronic conditions. One version of the new budget would require all retirees and their dependents to use the mail order system for these types of medications, regardless of their age. Beneficiaries could still use the base pharmacy for their medication needs. There are also discussions to hike prescription medication prices.
The Military Advantage blog has a good rundown on the possible price hikes.

Reduction in Force & Weapon Systems

The Army is considering reducing their strength of force by roughly 13% – from close to 520,000 today, to around 440,000 to 450,000 Soldiers. Sequestration could further reduce that number to 420,000. To put this in perspective, this would be the smallest the Army has been since before World War II. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cites budget constraints and changing warfare strategies as the reasons for cutting such as large number of troops. The cuts, if approved, wouldn’t happen overnight. They would be phased in through 2019, and would take into account retirements, normal separations, and other factors.

The DoD is also considering retiring the A-10 and U-2 aircraft, citing changes in how air wars are fought. The missions these aircraft support can also be handled by other aircraft, at least to a satisfactory degree. The Navy could also see to half their current cruiser fleet retired. The Marines could see a Reduction in Force.

Budget Cuts Are the New Reality

The cuts we are seeing today are reminiscent of the Reduction in Force that occurred at the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and 1990s (though the Cold War cuts were much larger). But that doesn’t make things easier for those who are experiencing cuts today. The fact of the matter is the military is adjusting to the current environment. Cuts are part of today’s military environment, and will continue to be an issue in the foreseeable future.

Congress Restores Military Retirement Pay

President Obama recently signed a new law that reverses the Military Retirement Pay Cuts, which were set to cut military pension Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) pay raises by 1% until military retirees reach age 62. This law was only recently passed as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act, in early 2014. The backlash from current and former military members, and lobbying groups representing them, was strong. In the end, Congress got the message, and reversed most of the cuts. They did not, however, repeal the law. They simply grandfathered in military members who were serving as of December 31, 2013. Let’s take a look at the impact this has on current and former military members.

The Original Military Pension Cuts

The Bipartisan Budget Bill reduced Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for military retirees by 1% until they reached age 62. COLA increases are based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is a a measurement of inflation in the US. The CPI measures over 80,000 items to determine an average inflation measurement.

The resulting CPI rate is used by the government to determine cost of living adjustments for a variety of government benefits including Social Security Benefits, military and government pension plan raises, and VA Service-Connected Disability rates. These Cost of Living Adjustments help benefits recipients maintain purchasing power over time.

The decision to reduce military pensions for retirees under age 62 was based on veterans’ ability to continue working. The cuts would have saved $6 billion over the coming decade.

Impact of the Bipartisan Bill Act COLA Cuts

The Bipartisan Bill Act was passed before there was much opportunity to debate the topic of military pension cuts. And predictably, many military and veterans groups were upset with the bill when it passed. The bill was initially set to go into effect in 2015, then pushed back to January 2016.

The Military Officers Association of America estimated the retirement cuts would have had the following impact:

The cuts will have a devastating and long-lasting impact. By age 62, retirees who serve a 20 year career would lose nearly 20 percent of their retired pay.

For example, an E-7 retiring this year with 20 years of service would see an average loss of over $3,700 per year by the time he or she reaches age 62. For an O-5, the average annual loss would be over $6,200. An E-7 retiring at age 40 today would experience a loss of $83,000 in purchasing power – an O-5 would lose $124,000 (source).

Lobbying groups representing current and former military members voiced their opinions through a variety of means, and they were heard. Both the House of Representatives and Congress voted to retract the largest portion of the bill. However, it was not a full repeal of the bill.

Changes to the Bipartisan Bill Act COLA Cuts

Neither the House nor the Senate wrote bills that would repeal the original language of the law. Instead, they voted to rewrite the law to essentially grandfather in service members who joined before January 1, 2014. Under the new proposed laws, anyone who was serving in the military as of December 31, 2013, would still fall under the old retirement system (High-3 and REDUX, with the current COLA rules).

Anyone who joined the military on or after January 1, 2014, would fall under the COLA-minus 1% rule that was passed as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act.

Impact for Future Retirees

The Department of Defense has traditionally grandfathered military members when they make changes to pay and benefits. At this point it is too early to say what changes may happen between now and the time military members reach retirement. The hope is that the COLA reductions under the Bipartisan Budget Act will be repealed in their entirety, allowing military members who joined after January 1, 2014 to enjoy the same retirement benefits as current service members. If that is not the case, the next best outcome is Congress leaving retirement alone for everyone who is currently grandfathered into the current retirement plans.

The main takeaway is to understand that pay and benefits are under fire. There is only so much the federal budget can handle, and Congress will continue to look for ways to save money, whether that is through retirement benefits, TRICARE cuts, reductions in pay raises, cuts to current benefits, Reductions in Force, cuts to weapons systems acquisitions, or other means of reducing the impact of the military and retirees to the federal budget.

Now is the time to begin taking matters into your own hands and preparing for retirement as though cuts may happen. That means contributing to the Thrift Savings Plan if you are still serving, opening an IRA, contributing to a 401k if you have a post-retirement job, or looking for other ways to earn or save money for retirement. The extra planning can go a long way toward improving your quality of life during your retirement years.

USERRA – Employment Rights for Military Members

Serving in the military can be a difficult task. It can be more difficult if you are a member of the Guard or Reserves who has to balance family, military duties, and their civilian day job. The possibility of being called to active duty with only a moment’s notice can create stress, both at home, and at the work place. The last thing a service member needs to worry about is losing his or her job due to military obligations.

If a Guard member or Reservist is activated for a long period of time, they may find themselves at a disadvantage for promotions, career advancement, or even keeping their job. At least, in theory.

Thankfully, the government recognizes the sacrifices of our military members. Since 1940, there has been a law on the books that gives uniformed service members the right to reemployment after completing required military training or service. The law, originally known as the Veterans’ Reemployment Rights (VRR), was expanded in 1994 by President Clinton to become known as Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA. (the full version of the law can be found in Title 38, United States Code, at chapter 43, Sections 4301 through 4333).

What Guard Members and Reservists Need to Know About USERRA

USERRA gives members of the uniformed services reemployment protection and other benefits when military duty forces them to miss time from their civilian jobs. Provided that members of the Reserve Corps meet the eligibility criteria,

USERRA mandates that returning service members must be promptly re-employed in the same position that they would have attained had they not been absent for military service, with the same seniority, status and pay, as well as other rights and benefits determined by seniority. USERRA also requires that reasonable efforts (such as training or retraining) be made to enable returning service members to refresh or upgrade their skills to help them qualify for reemployment. (source).

USERRA applies whether the activation is voluntary or involuntary, in peace time or in war time.

What does this mean? If you are called to active duty and you are eligible for protection under USERRA, your job is protected when you return from military service. At the minimum, your company must offer you another comparable job within the organization.

Of course, it isn’t always that simple. Let’s take a look at eligibility, requirements, employee and employer rights, and some other situations so you can get an idea if USERRA applies to you or not, and what options you may have available to you.

USERRA Eligibility

Service members: In general, if the employee is absent from a position of civilian employment by reason of service in the uniformed services, he or she is eligible for reemployment under USERRA by meeting the following criteria:

  • The employer had advance notice of the employee’s military service
  • The employee returns to work in accordance with USERRA guidelines
  • The employee has not been separated from service with a disqualifying discharge or under other than honorable conditions

Uniformed services includes members serving on active duty, in the Guard or Reserves, or members serving in the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service.

Qualified service includes:

  • Active duty and active duty for training
  • Initial active duty for training
  • Inactive duty training
  • Full-time National Guard duty
  • Absence from work for an examination to determine a person’s fitness for any of the above types of duty
  • Funeral honors duty performed by National Guard or Reserve members
  • Duty performed by intermittent employees of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, when activated for a public health emergency, and approved training to prepare for such service (added by Pub. L. 107-188, June 2002). See Title 42, U.S. Code, Section 300hh-11(d).

Duration of service limits: With some exceptions, USERRA limits the cumulative length of absence to five years. Some exceptions include initial service obligations exceeding five years, involuntary extension of service requirements, times of war, and times of domestic or national emergencies.

Disqualifying service: Separation from the service with a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge, or under other than honorable conditions. Other situations include the dismissal of a commissioned officer through a court martial or certain other situations, or when a service member is dropped from the rolls due to being AWOL or being incarcerated in a civilian jail.

USERRA Requirements for Employers

Employers: The law applies to virtually all public and private employers in the United States to include federal, state, and local governments, regardless of size. Providing that the service member meets all criteria, USERRA requires employers to provide the following:

  • Allow employees to participate in military service
  • Prompt reinstatement back into job following military service
  • Accumulation of seniority, including pension plan benefits
  • Reinstatement of health insurance
  • Training or retraining of job skills, including accommodations for disabled
  • Protection against discrimination

Rights Under USERRA

As stated, service members are entitled to their old job, or a comparable position, upon return from their military obligation. This includes accumulation of seniority and reinstatement of all benefits. Employers must provide refresher training, and any other training necessary to update a returning employee’s skills so that he or she has the ability to perform the essential tasks of the position.

Escalator Position Clause: There is an “Escalator Position” clause, which states the service member must be reemployed in the position the person would have occupied with reasonable certainty if the person had remained continuously employed, with full seniority. This works both ways. It could mean the service member should be promoted upon return if it was reasonably certain they would have otherwise been promoted. However, it could also mean that the service member moves to a lateral position or is demoted if there were organizational reorganizations or layoffs during their time on military duty. It could also mean the person is laid off if they would have otherwise been laid off while they were serving in the uniformed services (for example, if there was a reduction in force, or mass layoff in the company).

Continuation of health care benefits: Employers are required to continue offering employees health care benefits while the military member is performing military duties (for up to 24 months). If the member is activated for longer than 30 days, the employer may require the service member to pay 102% of the premium in order to continue receiving health care benefits (this is similar to COBRA heath care laws).

Protection from discrimination: This applies at all times, and not just when being called to active duty. Employers are forbidden from discriminating against people based on past, current, or future military obligations. This extends to hiring, promotions, benefits, and terminations. In other words, a company cannot deny you a job or promotion because you are currently serving, or have served in the military.

Reemployment Timetable Under USERRA

To be eligible for protection under USERRA, the service member must report back to work or apply for reemployment within the following guidelines:

  • 1-30 days of military service – Report next scheduled work day*
  • 31-180 days of military service – Apply within 14 days following completion of service.
  • 181+ days of military service – Apply within 90 days following completion of service.

* After 8 hours rest plus normal travel time from military training site to place of civilian employment.

Communication with your employer is essential. It’s important to keep the communication lines open during your activation so you can express your expectations and intentions to your employer. If you want to go back to your job, do your best to inform them when your activation period will end and when you will return to work.

Notice the terms state “report back to work or apply for reemployment.” In some cases, your employer may need to work with you to find a new (comparable) position within the company if your previous position was filled while you were activated on military orders. This is fairly common for people who were activated for several months or longer, as companies need to fill the civilian positions left vacant. Communicating with your employer can help you get the process started more quickly.

USERRA and Disabilities

Injuries and disabilities are a sad fact of the military profession. USERRA gives disabled veterans additional protections. Employers are required to make a reasonable effort to accommodate disabled veterans, and service members recovering from injuries received during service or training may have up to two years from the date of completion of service to return to their jobs or apply for reemployment.

Note the language states, “reasonable effort to accommodate disabled veterans.” It’s entirely possible in some situations that some reemployment may not work out. An example would be someone who works a physically demanding job and can no longer perform the tasks. The employer should try to find something comparable within the company, and offer training to help the service member (if available). But employers are not required to create a job out to simply keep someone on the payroll.

USERRA Enforcement

USERRA is a federal law, and can be enforced several ways. The Department of Labor has an organization called Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), which investigates complaints and attempts to resolve them by working as a mediator between the employer and the employee. Employees also have the right to contact their state Attorney General, or hire a private lawyer and file a lawsuit with their jurisdiction.

Additional USERRA Resources

This is only a top level overview of USERRA. This is a complicated law and it wouldn’t be possible to cover every possible scenario in an article on this site. The best course of action you can do is familiarize yourself with the laws, and keep the lines of communication open with your employer to ensure they are aware of your service commitments and your desire to return to work with their company.

Here are some additional resources to help you gain a better understanding of your rights under USERRA:

Bottom line: USERRA offers many employment protections for service members, but there are also some limitations. Familiarize yourself with the scope of the law, and inform your employer of your rights if you feel they are being abused.