We’ve all seen the photos of military homecomings circulating on social media or in the news; the fanfare, patriotic displays, and families welcoming their loved ones home. I’ve been there. The day my husband came back from Afghanistan was the best day of my life. But what happens when the music fades and our service members separate from the military? Their whole lives change the minute they get that fantastic DD-214, which officially concludes their service. They go from the very structured military benefits system to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If hearing ‘VA Benefits’ makes you want to open a bottle of wine to calm your frustration, trust me, I get it. Been there. Done that.
My husband is about to separate from the Army, so I started doing some research to understand how everything would change. Like anyone these days, my first step was the VA website. I got lost in a series of circular links, unhelpful fact sheets, and found no real answers. I’m a CPA, so my first task was to make sure he qualified for VA health coverage and to check if it was in compliance with the tax rules of the Affordable Care Act. After literally hours of research, I found that VA healthcare is ACA compliant, but honestly, I’m still not sure if he qualifies for it. There are long forms you have to fill out just to see if you even qualify. The only thing I know is that as a spouse without a qualifying event, I’m not eligible for VA healthcare. If a veteran is eligible, they are restricted to the VA health system, which has a reputation for some of the worst waiting times and most restrictive rules in the US healthcare system.
Another question that comes up often is what happens with employment after you separate? The VA website has lots of information about career counseling and navigating the transition. Did you know that veterans are eligible for unemployment benefits? Neither did I until a couple of months ago, and I heard it from a friend. It’s nowhere on the VA’s website. To find information, you have to run a Google search and it brings you to a completely different website affiliated with the VA that also has very vague instructions on receiving benefits. I contacted the US Department of Labor (DOL) about the Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Servicemembers (UCX) program. To receive UCX benefits, go to the state you plan to reside in and apply through that state. They’ll need a current address, your DD-214 showing an honorable discharge, a copy of your current resume or military job history (if you don’t have one, the site will help create one here), and your Social Security card. Sometimes, the best thing to do is skip the VA’s system and email the government office directly. For me, waiting a couple days to get the answer from the DOL was much easier than spending more time clicking through links for a second (third, or fourth) time.
The VA is hard to use and incredibly complicated. I’ve poured hours into the different aspects of VA benefits, and I’m still full of questions. If you’re frustrated, know that you’re not alone. It’s a disservice to our bravest and finest that once they’re done we stick them in this maze that is the VA system. That’s why organizations like Valiant Seed are so important. They fill in the gaps and help people when the VA can’t or won’t. We as a society have a duty to help our military veterans in any way we can. The extraordinary men and women of our military have done their duty; it’s time to do ours.
This post was written by teresamankin