National Guard and Reserve members who receive discharges other than dishonorable are eligible for certain VA benefits. Length of service as well as duty status may determine if you are eligible for other VA benefits.
Qualifying Service for VA Reservists and National Guard Benefits
Active Guard Reserve Members
Some VA National Guard and Reserve member benefits require a certain amount of active service. VA states that active service includes:
- Active Duty (Title 10). This would mean full-time active duty in the Armed Forces, including unit deployment, “travel to and from such duty,” but does not include active duty for training.
- Full-Time National Guard Duty (Title 31). Duty under Title 31 would be duty that you perform that makes you entitled to receive pay from the Federal government. Common examples include being called up to respond to a national emergency or duties as a member of the Active Duty Reserve.
It is important to note that State Active Duty (when a governor activates National Guard members in response to a natural disaster, for example) does not qualify as active service for purposes of receiving VA National Guard and Reserve member benefits.
Traditional National Guard or Reserve Member
Traditional National Guard or Reserve members typically only serve on active duty one weekend per month and two weeks per year. VA benefit eligibility for National Guard and Reserve members differs from that of Active Guard Reserve members.
Traditional National Guard or Reserve members can become eligible for certain VA benefits by fulfilling a service commitment. However, to be eligible for VA disability compensation, traditional National Guard or Reserve members must have a disability that resulted from an injury or disease that was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty during either active duty or active duty for training. To be eligible for disability compensation for a disability that occurred during inactive duty training, the disability must have resulted from an injury, heart attack, or stroke.
Veterans cannot receive VA disability compensation for injuries or conditions that occurred during State Active Duty (e.g. when the National Guard is called up by a state’s governor in response to a natural or man-made disaster).
Line of Duty
Whether a disability occurred in the “line of duty” is an administrative determination made by the Reserve Unit or National Guard after an investigation. The determination states whether a soldier’s injury or disease occurred while on duty status.
Eligibility for VA healthcare based on Title 32 service depends on the veteran’s disability being incurred or aggravated during their Title 32 service. Otherwise, VA healthcare benefit eligibility depends on a number of factors such as income.
National Guard or Reserve members who served on active duty in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, or Operation New Dawn can receive enhanced eligibility to receive VA healthcare benefits if they enroll within 5 years of the date of their discharge or release from service.
VA Home Loans
VA home loans are essentially mortgages that are guaranteed by the federal government, and can help eligible service members and veterans buy a home or adapt one to their needs. National Guard and Reserve members can be eligible for VA home loans if they meet certain criteria.
According to VA’s website, National Guard and Reserve members can qualify for a VA home loan if they meet the following criteria:
- Have “six years of service in the Selected Reserve;” and
- Received an honorable discharge; or
- Were put on the retired list; or
- “Were transferred to the Standby Reserve or an element of the Ready Reserve other than the Selected Reserve after service characterized as honorable;” or
- “Continues to serve in the Selected Reserves longer than six years; or”
- Had 90 days of service or more on active duty during a wartime period (Title 10); or
- “Were discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability.
There are several types of education benefits for which National Guard and Reserve members can be eligible, and each has different requirements and offers different benefits.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers up to 36 months of education benefits to those who are eligible, for programs ranging from flight training to undergraduate or graduate degrees.
According to VA, National Guard or Reserve members must meet the below criteria to be eligible for benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill:
- Received an honorable discharge from active duty “for a service-connected disability after serving at least 30 continuous days after September 10, 2001, or;”
- Have at least 90 cumulative days of active service including:
- Active duty service supporting named contingency operations (Title 10)
- Full-time National Guard duty under Title 32 “for the purposes of organizing, administering, recruiting, instructing, or training”
- Have full-time National Guard duty in which you were authorized by the Secretary of Defense or the President to respond to a national emergency (Title 32 section 502(f))
Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserves (MGIB-SR)
The Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserves (MGIB-SR) offers National Guard and Reserve members educational benefits up to $11,000 to help with costs of various education and training programs. Benefits under MGIB-SR benefits end for eligible members on the day they leave the Selected Reserve.
VA lists the eligibility criteria as follows, and all criteria must be met:
- Applicant must have a six year obligation to serve in the Selected Reserves
- Have completed Initial Active Duty for Training (IADT)
- Serve in a drilling unit and remain in good standing
- Have a high school diploma or its equivalent
Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)
Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) is meant to give educational assistance to Reserve members who are called up or ordered to active duty in response to a war or national emergency as declared by Congress or the President.
This program was ended in November of 2015, however VA’s website notes that some members are still eligible for benefits under REAP until November 25, 2019. The Post-9/11 GI Bill largely replaced REAP.
The program no longer accepts new applicants. REAP recipients who were attending school and receiving benefits before November 2015 will still be able to receive REAP benefits until November 25, 2019.