Free Tax Filing and Preparation for Military Members

One of the little known benefits of being in the military is access to free tax filing and preparation services. There are several options for military personnel to file their taxes for free, including free tax preparation assistance on base, and free tax prep software you can use online to file your taxes. Some local communities may also offer free tax preparation. We can’t cover each of the local opportunities, but we can let you know about how military members can get free tax preparation on their military installation or through many online tax software programs.

The options covered in this article are usually available to active duty, their families, and in some cases, retirees and their families and civilian personnel, depending on available resources.

Free Tax Service on Base – Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

free tax preparation for military

You can get free tax filing help on base.

Most major military installations have a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) office. Marines, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and their families worldwide are eligible to receive free tax preparation assistance at offices within their installations. Reserve members, Guardsmen, Retirees and some civilian personnel may also be eligible, depending on the location and available resources.

Participating VITA sites provide free tax advice, tax preparation, and assistance to military members and their families. Most importantly, they are trained and equipped to address military specific tax issues such as non-taxable military income, tax-free zones, tax deadline extensions for military members, out of state residency issues, and more. To top it off, the work is usually signed off on by a CPA before it is filed.

Call you local base information office for more details.

Free Tax Preparation Software for Military Members

For those who prefer to do your own taxes, there are several options to e-file your taxes online – free of charge.

  • TurboTax Military Edition. TurboTax created a software program specifically for military members. There is currently a free version for junior enlisted, and a discount for senior enlisted and officers. Read our full review for more information. Or visit the TurboTax Military Edition site.
  • offers a free version of H&R Block At Home®. You must click the link directly from the MilitaryOneSource home page and be logged into your account. This version features one federal return and up to 3 state returns (good for military members who change state residency in a tax year).
  • offers free state and federal e-filing for military personnel.
  • IRS Free File is available to taxpayers with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $58,000 or less.
  • TurboTax Freedom Edition, only available to those eligible for IRS Free File.

If you find additional companies, please contact me know and I will add them to the list.

Companies Participating in the IRS Free File Program

The following companies participate in the IRS Free File program. Note that each company may have slightly different eligibility rules and there may be an additional charge for state taxes. Each of these companies guarantees their software and offers Free File and free e-file, so you know your return will be filed with the IRS correctly and on time.

It’s also important to note that not everyone will be eligible for the Free File option – the Free File option only includes a limited number of forms. If you have a more complicated tax situation, or have a small business, complicated investments, rental properties, or other unique situations, you may be required to purchase one of these programs. With each of the programs you will be able to begin your tax return and upgrade without losing your work.

TurboTax - Do your taxes for FreeFree File with TurboTax: TurboTax is the company I have the most experience with as I have used their software for the last few years. The TurboTax software is intuitive and easy to use, and takes you step by step through your return, including various types of income, deductions, tax credits, and more. The TurboTax Free file program supports the following IRS forms: 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ.

  • File your federal tax return free with TurboTax.

Online - H&R Block  Zip.Zero.Zilch 120x90Free File with H&R Block At Home®: H&R Block At Home® is a guaranteed software program and easy to navigate and use. The H&R Block At Home® Free File Online program guides you through a simple, standardized federal tax return to help ensure your taxes are done correctly. The form is pre-selected and there are no forms to select.

Free File with TaxACT & Military DiscountTaxACT offers a free file federal version, and a paid version. They also have a version for each state (There is a charge for state tax returns – however, there is a $5 discount for State File for U.S. Armed Forces with Qualifying Employer Identification Number). The process is easy – simply go through the tax software program and fill in your information each step of the way, review your return, then file it.

  • File your federal tax return free with TaxACT.

FreeTaxUSAFree File with FreeTaxUSA: FreeTaxUsa provides a Free File program for federal taxes and an inexpensive Deluxe Edition for $5.95 per return. There is a $12.95 charge for state tax returns. FreeTaxUSA’s Free File program covers all simple forms of income, deductions, and credits. Check out the FreeTaxUSA site for more details.

However you choose to file your taxes, I hope you are able to get your taxes prepared and filed with few hassles. You may also wish to use this tax refund schedule to find out when you might expect to receive your refund.


Veterans Benefits Guide – How to Unlock Your Veterans Benefits

There are hundreds of benefits available to military veterans. From health care to education and training, to housing assistance and more. But sometimes it can be difficult to know which veterans benefits are out there, and which you may be eligible for. Part of the problem is the sheer number of benefits programs, and part of the problem is misconceptions about who is eligible for these programs. VA health care, for example, is a largely misunderstood benefit. Many veterans are eligible for VA health care benefits, but aren’t aware they can apply. We will cover these topics and more in this veterans benefits guide, and give you the resources you need to find more information about eligibility and how to apply.

Veterans Benefits Guide

Your Guide to Veterans Benefits

Veterans Benefits Guide – Start Here

Here are the topics we will cover. To navigate, just click on a link and it will take you to that spot on the page. At the end of each section you can click a link to bring you right back to this index.

A note about enlisting professional benefits claims assistance: You should rarely pay for veterans benefits claims assistance. In most cases, you should be able to receive assistance from the VFW or American Legion. There are a few occasions when enlisting expert help is a good idea. This can include applying for The Veterans Aid and Pension Benefit, disability, and certain benefits claims which may be complicated or require legal assistance.

Required Documents Every Veteran Should Have

Every veteran should maintain a copy of his or her DD Form 214, which is the separation paperwork issued by each branch of the service. Depending on when you served, or if you served in the Guard or Reserves, you may have a similar form which has a different form name. Whichever form you have, keep a copy of it in a safe place, as it is the key to unlocking your benefits! Here are some resources to help you:

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Health Care for Transitioning Military Veterans and their Families

health care for military veterans and their familiesHealth care is probably the most important topic for veterans. Medical care is free for military members while they serve and virtually free for their family members. But unless the military members serves through retirement, they lose that benefit when they separate from military service. Just as important, military members lose coverage for their families. Here are some options for health care coverage for veterans and their family members. The programs or resources listed in this section all cover the member and their families and may have an associated cost or time limit. The section below covers VA health care benefits, which are limited to the service member.

  • Transitional Assistance Management Program. TAMP is a short term health care program available to eligible military members and their families when the member separates from military service. TAMP provides up to 180 days of full TRICARE benefits to eligible participants. This program is designed for veterans who had to leave the service quickly and sometimes unexpectedly. Eligibility is based on the reason the service member separated and you must have an honorable discharge to qualify. Learn more about the Transitional Assistance Management Program.
  • Continued Health Care Benefit Program. The CHCBP is a transitional health care program for veterans, similar to COBRA beenfits offered to workers in the civilian world. This benefit allows military members and their families to take TRICARE with them for up to 18 months when they leave active duty service. There is a catch, however. The member is required to pay 100% of the cost out of pocket. Learn more about the Continued Health Care Benefit Program.
  • Health Care Insurance After Separating from The Military. In addition to the above programs, you may be able to find health care benefits through an employer, an individual health care plan, or through a college or university if you are going to school. Learn more about how to get health care coverage after leaving the military.

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VA Medical Benefits Eligibility

VA Benefits Guide - VA health Care benefitsThe VA offers health care benefits to certain veterans. There are many misconceptions about who is eligible for these benefits. The good news is that many people are eligible for VA medical benefits, even if they don’t know about it. An important note: Being eligible for VA medical care does not mean you will receive 100% free health care. Each veteran who is eligible for VA health care benefits is assigned a priority number which helps determine what types of health care they are eligible to receive, and whether or not they are required to pay a co-pay or other fees.

In general, VA health care is potentially available to anyone who served on active duty. Guard and Reserve members may also qualify if they were called up on Federal Executive Orders (active duty training may not qualify). Eligibility is based on several factors, including when and where the veteran served, service-connected disabilities, whether an injury or illness occurred while on active duty, income, and other factors. Veterans of the Vietnam War and Persian Gulf War are generally eligible. Servicemembers returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns are usually eligible for VA health care for up to 5 years after returning from the AOR, and sometimes longer, depending on their status. Note: The following are not required to be eligible for VA health care benefits: service-connected disability, combat action, wounded in combat, etc.

If there is any doubt about your eligibility status, please just apply. You may be be approved for some form of VA medical care benefits.

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Service Connected Disabilities

VA Service Connected Disability CompensationVeterans with a service-connected disability are often eligible for various benefits, including VA health care benefits, and sometimes service connected disability compensation. Keep in mind, that some service-connected disability ratings may be 0%, which might leave you ineligible for certain benefits for that specific rating. However, ratings can change through the years. If your problem worsens, you can appeal the decision or apply to have your decision upgraded. You should also keep the VA up to date regarding the number of eligible dependents you have, as this may affect your compensation.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Counseling Resources

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious issue, and one that is often misunderstood. Please don’t let that stop you from getting the assistance you need. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can affect anyone who has gone through a difficult experience. Please contact a professional if you believe you may have some symptoms. Assistance is there. Please reach out. There are many local and national resources available to veterans with PTSD. Here are some of the national resources:

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Post-Military Employment

Veterans EmploymentMaking the military-to-civilian transition can be difficult for many veterans. Not all military jobs have a civilian equivalent, and many veterans find they need to go through a period of retraining before they are able to find gainful civilian employment. There are many programs to help veterans make the transition and find gainful civilian employment. Here are a few resources you can use to help you find a job after you leave military service. The GI Bill and other retraining programs are covered in the next section.

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Education and Training Programs & the GI Bill

Veterans Benefits Guide - GI BillThere are a variety of education and training programs available to military members and veterans. We will focus on the programs available to veterans after they leave the service. We will only cover the programs available through the VA or the federal government. Some states also offer their own education or training programs for veterans. We will cover how to unlock benefits at the state level later in this article.

GI Bill. The GI Bill currently comes in two flavors, the Montgomery GI Bill, and the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The MGIB is a program military members can buy into when they enlist. They can then use those benefits to help pay for school. With the MGIB, benefits are paid directly to the veteran and the veteran then pays the school. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a new benefit which is only available to those who served in the Post-9/11 era. There are certain eligibility requirements to meet. This benefit is paid out to the school, but covers more benefits than the MGIB. It also gives the servicemember a monthly housing allowance and a book stipend each year. In some case this benefit can be transferred to eligible dependents. Here is some more information about the various GI Bill programs and benefits to help you get started.

VOW to Hire HEROES Act – GI Bill for unemployed veterans. The VOW Act is a GI bill program for unemployed military veterans. There are certain requirements for this program. Learn more about the GI Bill for Unemployed Veterans.

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VA Loan Eligibility & How to Apply

Veterans Benefits - VA LoanThe VA Loan can be one of the most valuable veteran benefits after health care and education. The VA Loan makes it easier for military members and veterans to qualify for and purchase a home. Because mortgages backed by the VA are guaranteed by the government, they often have lower interest rates than conventional home loans. There are certain eligibility requirements for VA Loans, and you still need to qualify for the loan before you can buy a house. Here is some information to help you determine your VA Loan eligibility:

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Resources for Homeless Veterans

There are over 67,000 homeless veterans in the US. The US government has established a goal to end homelessness among veterans by 2015. To do this, they created several programs to help homeless veterans find shelter and get the help they need. You can learn more about these problems and some of the programs available for our veterans in the following resources:

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Veterans Aid and Pension Benefit

The Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit, or Veterans Pension Benefit, is a little known program designed to help elderly veterans or widows with care and assistance. The program provides assistance for home care, assisted living, or nursing home care, up to $1,800 a month for a veteran, or $900 a month for the unmarried widow of a veteran. Veterans or their widow must meet certain income and asset requirements in order to qualify for this program.

*Note: The application for this benefit can be complicated to apply for. This is one of the times it can be well worth using a professional to help you apply for this program.

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State and Local Military Benefits: where to go and how to apply

Many states, counties, and other local governments have some form of benefits programs available to their residents. At the minimum, every state has a state Veterans Affairs office, and many counties and other local governments do as well. The benefits they offer varies by office. Many states offer some form of the following: education and training, benefits claims assistance, job placement, homestead exemptions, and more. The best way to find these programs is to visit your state or county website, search online, or look in the yellow pages.

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Where to go for Assistance with VA Claims

Some VA claims are complicated. Sometimes you need to speak with an expert who can help you file your claim and make sure your forms are filled out completely and accurately the first time you apply. This will help avoid delays in having your claim processed, as any errors or omissions can delay your claims process. Here are some tips for Appealing a Denied VA Benefits Claim.

There are a few places you can find expert help with VA claims:

Note: There are many more veterans organizations that can help you fill out a VA claim form. The list above should be enough to help you get started.

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Military Funeral Honors

Veterans Benefits - Military Funeral HonorsThe US Military provides a free burial service for all veterans who meet eligibility criteria – generally if they served in the active military and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, or if they were a member or former member of the selected reserve. The funeral home typically arranges the Military Funeral Honors, but they will need the required documents to get the process started. You can learn more in the following articles:

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What Else You Need to Know About VA Claims

VA benefits onlineYour claim will be processed more quickly and with fewer errors if you file your claim online. This can be done through the VONAPP program, which is the online VA claims program. This is a central location for filing a VA benefits claim. You can learn more here:

You don’t need to pay for claims assistance. In general, you should be able to get free assistance with VA claims. There are only certain instances.

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This veterans benefits guide is designed to be a resource page – to get you started on the path to understanding and applying for the veterans benefits you earned. Please keep in mind that some programs have specific eligibility criteria, and some programs change over time. The final decision for VA benefits lies with the Department of Veterans Affairs, or with the agency that provides the benefits. Please seek help in applying for benefits if you are unsure of your eligibility of where to start.

Photo credits: iStockPhoto, except VA Seal and Military Funeral (Beverly & Pack)

How to Get a Military ID Card

A military ID card or dependent ID is a valuable card which can unlock a variety of valuable benefits, such as health care through TRICARE, education benefits, and access base facilities, including the commissary, base exchange, rec centers and other support agencies.

Unfortunately, getting a military ID card isn’t always as easy as waltzing onto your local military installation and requesting one. In fact, only certain individuals are eligible to receive a military ID card or dependent ID card. You are usually eligible to receive a military ID if you are a military retiree or are currently in the military (active duty, Guard, Reserve, or Inactive Ready Reserve). Certain dependents are eligible for dependent ID cards as well (see below).


Are you eligible for a military ID card?

What about a veteran ID card? One of the most common questions we receive comes from veterans who are looking to get a veteran ID card which proves their military service. There are many reasons why proof of military service can come in handy – including securing veterans benefits, proof of service for military discounts, or just to show off your military pride. However, if you served in the military and have since separated from, but didn’t retire from the military, you may not be eligible for a military ID card.

In this article we will cover information about some of the forms of military ID that are available, who is eligible to receive one, and alternative forms of identification to prove military service if you are a military veteran who is not eligible for a military ID card.

Military ID Card Eligibility

In general, you must be in the DEERS system to receive a new military ID card. This includes the servicemember (sponsor) and eligible dependents (who must be entered into DEERS by the sponsor). Here are some general rules regarding military ID card eligibility. Check with your local issuing base personnel office more more specific information.

  • Active Duty ID card. You must be on Active Duty military status and be in the DEERS system.
  • Guard/Reserve Military ID Card. You must be in the Guard or Reserves, which may include the Inactive Ready Reserves (IRR).
  • Retiree Military ID Card. You must qualify as a military retiree, which generally means 20 years of active military service, or 20 years in the Guard or Reserves (though age limits may change eligibility requirements for Guard/Reserve retirees). Medically retired servicemembers may also be eligible.
  • Former Military / No longer serving, not retired. There are a few exceptions given to certain veterans who meet the following qualifications: Medal of Honor recipients, 100% disabled veterans, Former members in receipt of retired pay, Transitional Health Care Member (TAMP), and some others. They will receive DD Form 2765.
  • Military Dependent ID Card. These may include, but are not limited to: Lawful spouse, un-remarried surviving spouse, unmarried children (including adopted or stepchildren) who are: under 21 years of age, over 21 but incapable of self-support (documentation is required), over 21 but under 23 who are attending an approved learning institution as a full time student (documentation is required). There are additional eligibility rules for former spouses, dependent parents/in-laws, and certain other cases. Contact your card issuing service for additional information.
  • Veteran ID Card. This is where it gets a little tricky. There is no official DoD issued military veteran ID card. However, the VA medical system may issue ID cards for veterans who are in their system for service connected disability benefits and certain other situations. (see below).

More types of Uniformed Services ID Cards.

How to Get a Replacement Military Dependent ID Card

In addition to being in the DEERS system, you will need at least 2 forms of ID. For more information about where to go, contact your local base personnel office, or visit the Rapids Site Locator (RSL) for ID card requirements and to locate the nearest ID Card Facility/RAPIDS Station based on City, Zip, State or Country.

Veterans ID Cards

department of veterans affairs id cardAs we mentioned above, not all veterans are eligible for a military ID card. But there may be ways you can still prove your military service. Some states, including Virginia, issue state issued veterans ID cards. Some other states may include an endorsement on their state issued driver’s licenses or ID cards. If this is the case, you should be able to get an ID card through your state (note: not all states offer these cards at this time).

The VA also issues a Veterans Identification Card (VIC), which is a photo ID for veterans who are eligible for VA health care. (note: you do not have to have a service-connected disability rating to be eligible for VA health care benefits). The VIC is a photo ID and you will need to qualify in order to be eligible this ID card. Here is more about how to get a Veterans Identification Card from the VA, and VA health care eligibility.

If you do not have access to the above veterans ID card options, you may still be able to prove your military service in other ways.

Your DD 214 Will Prove Military Service

The easiest way to prove your military service without one of the above ID cards is with a DD Form 214, which is the document which serves as your service record. This is issued to all military members when the separate from military service (the military used to issue a wallet sized DD Form 214, but so far as I know, this is no longer the case).

Unfortunately, carrying around a letter size document is inconvenient. One tip we have received from many veterans is to take your DD Form 214 to an office supply store such as Office Depot, Office Max, Fed-Ex/Kinkos, etc. and ask them to shrink the card to a wallet size version and have it laminated. This will give you a wallet sized document that will prove your service.

Note: Your DD Form 214 is one of the most important documents you will receive, so keep good care of it! Here are more details on the DD Form 214, including how to get a new DD 214.

How You Can Get an ID Card to Prove Military Service

Unfortunately a DD Form 214 isn’t a photo ID, it is simply a document. If you are looking for a photo ID or other wallet sized ID to prove your military service, then these may be good options for you:

  • Department of Veterans Affairs ID Card. This ID card is issued to military veterans who are eligible to receive medical care from the VA. Contact your local VA medical center for more information about your eligibility.
  • State Driver’s License. Some state driver’s licenses display a logo or code that denotes military service. Call your state Department of Motor Vehicles, or licensing branch for more information. You will likely need to bring your DD Form 214 to prove your military service. See a full list of states which offer a veterans designation on drivers licenses or state issued ID cards.
  • State or County Veterans ID Card program. Some counties or other communities issue veteran ID cards. These aren’t “official US or state government IDs,” but they may be valuable in the local community, as many restaurants and retailers will extend discounts as a thanks for your service. These cards may also be good for local or county benefits programs, but these vary by locale.
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Card. Check with your local VFW for eligibility requirements.
  • American Legion membership card. Check with your local American Legion for eligibility requirements.
  • Other service organization ID card. Check with your local military organization for eligibility requirements.

Do you know of any other forms of ID that can be used to prove military service? If so, please contact us. We will add it to the list.

VA ID Card photo source: WikiMedia Commons

Montgomery GI Bill Rates

The Montgomery GI Bill is one of the most valuable benefits available to military members and veterans. In many cases, it is worth tens of thousands of dollars in education benefits. If you want to know how much you can earn in MGIB benefits, then check out these GI Bill Rates tables to find the corresponding monthly payments based on your GI Bill program and the educational program you are attending.

Montgomery GI Bill RatesAbout these GI Bill rates: Each year the VA reassesses the cost of tuition and updates the benefits paid to GI Bill recipients. In most cases the value of the Montgomery GI Bill increases each year. We do our best to update this information each year to reflect the new GI Bill rates and present the most accurate information we can.

However, each person has a unique case, and this chart should be used as a reference only. You should contact the VA and your educational institution to determine your eligibility and the status of your benefits. Remember – Montgomery GI Bill benefits expire 10 years after your last separation from active duty, so be sure to use them before they do (it is possible to get a GI Bill refund, but only under limited circumstances)!

Know your GI Bill benefits: The Montgomery GI Bill for Active Duty military members (MGIB-AD/Chapter 30) is probably the most common GI Bill plan, and those are the rates covered in this article. The MGIB is the GI Bill plan military members were given the opportunity to buy into for $1,200 during basic training. There is another GI Bill plan, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which is available to military members who served after September 11, 2001. The Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits are paid directly to the school or educational institution (more info below).

Montgomery GI Bill Monthly Rates – 2014-2015

The Montgomery GI Bill offers eligible recipients a monthly stipend while they are attending classes at a qualified training institution. The checks are sent on a monthly basis and are made payable to the student. Payments to trainees on active duty status are limited to the reimbursement of tuition and fees. If the trainee uses military tuition assistance, the payments are limited to the difference between the tuition assistance and the remaining tuition and fees.

The following payment rates for the Montgomery GI Bill are good for fiscal year 2013, or from October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015:

Institutional Training Time Monthly GI Bill Rate
Full Time $1,717.00
¾ Time $1,287.75
½ Time $858.50
Less than ½ time more than ¼ time $858.50**
¼ Time or less $429.25**

Using the MGIB for Apprenticeships and On-Job Training

The MGIB can also be used for apprenticeships and On-Job Training. The following rates cover these types of training:

Apprenticeship and On-Job Training Monthly GI Bill Rate
First six months of training $1,287.75
Second six months of training $944.35
Remaining pursuit of training $600.95

MGIB Rates, Less Than 3 Years Service

Rates are given for servicemembers who served 3 years or more on Active Duty. If you served fewer than 3 years:

Institutional Training Time Monthly GI Bill Rate
Full Time $1,395.00
¾ Time $1,046.25
½ Time $697.50
Less than ½ time more than ¼ time $697.50**
¼ Time or less $348.75**

MGIB Rates for Apprenticeships & OJT, Less Than 3 Years Service

Apprenticeship and On-Job Training
(Less than 3 Years)
Monthly GI Bill Rate
First six months of training $1,046.25
Second six months of training $767.25
Remaining pursuit of training $488.25

Additional notes about these MGIB Rates:

  • Flight Training — Students pursuing courses which consist solely of flight training will be paid at 60% of the approved rates.
  • ** Tuition and Fees only. Payment cannot exceed listed amount.

$600 Top up program. The Montgomery GI Bill and Reserve Educational Assistance Program both have a program which allows members to “top up” their GI Bill by buying additional benefits. Also called the GI Bill Kicker, this plan allows members to buy additional benefits in $20 increments, up to a total of $600. MGIB and REAP recipients will then receive an additional stipend on their monthly GI Bill payment, valued at 1/4 the amount they paid into the buy up program for full-time attendance (rates vary based on full-time or partial-time attendance). You can find the full $600 Buy Up Chart at the VA website.

Montgomery GI Bill for Reserves

The above listed rates are for members of the Active Duty Montgomery GI Bill program (Chapter 30). There are other MGIB programs available to military members, including the Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR/Chapter 1606) and the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP/Chapter 1607). You can find the current rates for these programs at the VA website:

Post 9/11 GI Bill Rates

The Post 9/11 GI Bill makes tuition payments directly to the educational institution. Benefits can be used at a variety of higher learning institutions, but rates are capped at the rates of the most expensive state Institution of Higher Learning (IHL). Click to see current rates. Recipients may be eligible to receive BAH benefits based on the rates of an E-5 with dependents, a book stipend, and more. BAH rates are based on the zip code of the school the recipient is attending.

Use your GI Bill Benefits! GI Bill benefits don’t last forever. Your MGIB benefits expire 10 years after your last separation from Active Duty status; Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits are good for 15 years after you separate. Contact the VA, or search GI Bill Schools to start using your GI Bill benefits before they expire!

Unemployment Benefits After Separating from the Military

Did you know that many military veterans are eligible to receive unemployment benefits when they separate from the military?

Transitioning from a military career to a civilian career is a big step. Not all jobs transfer over from the military and it can be difficult for civilians to understand how much military members bring to the table in terms of experience, leadership and many other attributes. It is not uncommon for military members to struggle when seeking civilian employment.

Thankfully, there are benefits that can help you bridge the gap between military and civilian careers. Service members who are no longer active in the military have the same unemployment benefit options available to them as other Americans. I applied for unemployment benefits when I separated from the military, and I encourage you to do the same if you are eligible.

Unemployment benefits for military veterans

Unemployment compensation may be available to ex-military personnel.  If eligible, military members will receive compensation from the Unemployment Compensation for Ex-service members (UCX).  This program is run by the federal government, but each state has their own agents representing the UCX.  Whether or not  you are eligible and how much compensation you will receive depends on several factors.  If you receive other compensation (separation pay, retirement pay) the amount of compensation for which you may be eligible will be reduced.  Here we look at how you can go about signing up for unemployment compensation and what you can do before separation to get your finances in order.

Signing up for unemployment benefits

Since each state is in charge of unemployment benefits paid out to residents of the state, this is the starting point for signing up for compensation.  The state unemployment office will be able to determine if you are eligible to receive benefits, how long you can receive benefits and how much compensation you will receive.  You must apply through the state employment office which will also help you in your search for new employment.  When visiting the state employment office to inquire about benefits be sure to have the following documents on hand; job history or resume, Social Security Card and DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty).

A couple quick notes about military unemployment benefits:

  • Federal law requires that you are physically in the state in which you file your first claim based on military wages. You can file in the state in which you separate from the military, but you may need to transfer your unemployment benefits if you move to another state (be sure to check with the employment bureau in the state where you move).
  • Unemployment benefits for former military members is usually based on military service wages, however, separation pay or military retirement pay may affect your benefits.
  • In most cases, you must have been separated under honorable conditions to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • Each state may have unique rules or provisions. Check with your state employment office for specific information.

New GI Bill Program for Unemployed Military Veterans

If you are an unemployed veteran, you may be eligible for a new GI Bill program specifically designed for unemployed veterans age 35-60.  The good news is this program is open to eligible veterans regardless of whether or not they still have remaining GI Bill eligibility (MGIB benefits typically expire 10 years after a veteran’s separation date).

The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 was recently passed, which offers up to 12 months of education and training at the full-time active duty Montgomery GI Bill rate. Training is available to eligible veterans for VA Approved education and training programs at a community college or technical school. Benefits must be used toward an Associate’s Degree, qualified certification, or a non-college degree in a high demand field (examples include, information technology, trucking, certain medical occupations, and more).

Visit the GI Bill for unemployed veterans page on our site to learn more about eligibility, and how to apply.

Prepare your finances before separation from the military

A well padded emergency fund can provide the financial security necessary during a time of transition from one job to another.  Service members who are planning to transition from military to civilian status should plan on saving as much money as they can to help bridge any gaps in employment. It took me about 4 months to find a job when I made the transition from the military to civilian workforce, but your results may vary depending on the economy where you separate, your skills, and other factors. Unemployment benefits helped, but I was also single and had few expenses. If you have a family and more expenses, then you will need a larger nest egg to help you through this transition.

Having enough money to cover several months worth of living expenses will offer some peace of mind until you are able to secure your next job. Consider saving your money in a high interest savings account which will offer a decent interest rate while still providing access to your money.