VA Benefits for National Guard and Reserve Members – Video
Bethany Cooke: Hi and welcome to the Veterans Legal Lowdown. My name is Bethany Cooke and with me is Kayla D’Onofrio. We’re both accredited claims agents at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick. In this episode, we’re going to go over some VA benefits that are available to National Guard and Reserve members.
To get us started, I’m going to talk about qualifying service for VA benefits. So, to be eligible for certain VA benefits, National Guard and Reserve members have to receive first of all discharges that are other than dishonorable. Unfortunately, if you do receive a dishonorable discharge, then you would not qualify for most benefits.
Some VA National Guard and Reserve member benefits also require a certain amount of active service. For example, you might be required to have a certain amount of full-time active duty in the armed forces, which includes unit deployment and travel to and from such duty, but unfortunately, it does not include inactive duty for training.
You could also have a certain amount of full-time National Guard Duty, which would be duty that you perform that makes you entitled to receive pay from the federal government. An example of this would be if you’re called up to respond to a national emergency or duties as a member of the Active Duty Reserve.
It’s a little bit different if you’re a traditional National Guard or Reserve member, as they do typically only serve on active duty one weekend per month and two weeks per year. However, they can become eligible for certain VA benefits by fulfilling the service commitment as well. For example, to be eligible for VA disability compensation, members have to have a disability that resulted from an injury or a disease that was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty during either active duty or active duty for training.
If you have a disability that occurred during inactive duty for training, the requirements for disability compensation are different. It’s a little bit more stringent for disability compensation for disability occurring during inactive duty training. The disability has to have resulted from an injury, heart attack, or a stroke specifically.
One last thing to keep in mind, it’s unfortunately important to know that state active duty – for example, when a state governor activates National Guard members in response to a local disaster – that does not qualify as an active service for the purposes of receiving VA National Guard and Reserve member benefits.
Kayla D’Onofrio: The first benefit that we’re going to be talking about today is disability compensation. Disability compensation is a tax-free monthly benefit that’s awarded to veterans with a 10 percent disability rating or higher. VA will pay monthly benefits to Reservists or National Guard members for disabilities from disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active duty and inactive duty for training, or for disabilities from injury incurred or aggravated during inactive duty for training.
Disabilities are evaluated based on the severity using VA’s schedule for rating disabilities and then given a rating ranging between 0 and 100 percent. The more severe the disability rating is, the higher the disability rating VA will assign it. And the higher ratings are also associated with a higher monthly monetary value.
For more information on how VA ratings work, I recommend checking out our CCK Live video where we go into a lot more detail about how VA assigns ratings and then how they come up with their combined rating for your overall total disability rating.
Another benefit that’s available is VA pension. VA pension is a tax-free benefit to veterans with limited income and net worth who served during a wartime period.
Generally, veterans must have 90 days or 24 months of active duty depending on when they served to qualify. For more information about the eligibility requirements, VA’s website has a full list of the length of duty and the time of duty, as well as the income and net worth requirements that you would need to show to be eligible for VA pension.
Bethany: Another great benefit is VA home loans. So, VA home loans are mortgages that are guaranteed by the federal government that can help eligible service members and veterans buy a home or even adapt one to their needs.
There are certain criteria that have to be met by National Guard and Reserve members to qualify for a VA home loan. For example, they can have six years of service in the selected reserve and either receive an honorable discharge or be put on the retired list, or if they were transferred to the standby reserve or an element of the ready reserve other than the selected reserve after receiving a discharge characterized as honorable.
They can also qualify if they continue to serve in the selected reserves for a period longer than six years. Or lastly, if they were discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability, they can also potentially qualify. There will be other requirements that have to be met for the home loan to be granted, but these are the basic requirements to meet before applying.
Recently, the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act made a specific provision for National Guard members. As of 2021, due to this act, National Guard members’ service are increasingly eligible to receive a VA home loan. So, where previously a National Guard member would need to observe for 90 consecutive days on active duty, the new legislation makes it so that guard and reserve members deployed under Title 32 – which means federally funded but state-controlled deployment – who have at least 90 days of service, with 30 days of those days being consecutive, eligible for the home loan program. So, the new requirement is less stringent, as well you still have to have 90 days of service, only 30 of those days have to be consecutive.
Kayla: VA does offer some health benefits to National Guard and Reserve members as well. Eligibility for VA healthcare based on Title 32, which Bethany just described, depends on the veterans’ disability being incurred or aggravated during their Title 32 service. Otherwise, VA healthcare benefit eligibility will depend on factors such as income.
National Guard or Reserve members who served after November 11, 1998, such as active duty in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, or Operation New Dawn, can receive enhanced eligibility to VA healthcare benefits as long as they enroll within five years of the date of their discharge or their release from service.
In addition to the health benefits, there are also some education benefits that might be available for National Guard and Reserve members. There are different eligibility requirements and different benefits that are offered through these different education programs. The first one we’re going to talk about is the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This benefit offers up to 36 months of education benefits to those who are eligible for programs that range from flight training to undergraduate programs to graduate degrees.
According to VA, National Guard or Reserve members must have 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 duty service, including active duty service supporting named contingency operations under Title 10; full-time National Guard Duty under Title 32 for the purpose of organizing, administering, recruiting, instructing, or training; or 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, again, under Title 32.
The other education benefit that we’re going to talk about today is the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve. This benefit offers National Guard and Reserve members educational benefits up to $11,000 to help with costs of various education and training programs. Benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve end for eligible members on the day that they leave the selected reserve service.
There are certain eligibility requirements for this benefit, all of which must be met. Those requirements include that the applicant must have a six-year obligation to serve in the selected reserves. They have to have completed initial active duty for training. They have to serve in a drilling unit and remain in good standing, and they have to have a high school diploma or the equivalent, such as GED.
Bethany: There are also life insurance programs that are available to National Guard and Reserve members. So, these programs can be really beneficial as they can provide more financial security and the lower monthly premiums to eligible service members and veterans.
Service members are automatically insured under full-time Servicemembers Group Life Insurance if they are either a member of the Ready Reserve or National Guard who is scheduled to perform at least 12 periods of inactive training per year, or if they are a service member who volunteers for a mobilization category in the Individual Ready Reserve.
If you don’t meet those requirements, part-time coverage is also available to National Guard and Reserve members who perform duty at specific times. And other insurance plans available to National Guard and Reserve members include the Veterans’ Group Life Insurance, Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, SGLI Traumatic Injury Protection, as well as Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance, and Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance. Eligibility criteria for all of these programs can be found on VA’s website.
Kayla: The last benefit we’re going to talk about today is the Veteran Readiness and Employment Program or the VR&E program. This program provides education and training services, including vocational counseling and job search assistance to National Guard and Reserve members with service-connected disabilities.
You may be eligible for assistance in preparing for, obtaining, and maintaining suitable employment through the VR&E if you are a veteran with a service-connected disability rated at 20 percent or more, or you’re hospitalized or receiving outpatient medical care services or treatment for service-connected disability pending discharge from active duty. If you’re severely ill or injured or have been referred to a military physical evaluation board or are participating in the DOD/VA Integrated Disability Evaluation Systems process, or you’re a veteran with a service-connected disability rated at least 10 percent and your vocational rehabilitation counselor determines that you need rehabilitation because of a serious employment handicap. You may also qualify for career counseling if you were recently separated from the military or are using the VA education benefits that we talked about a little bit earlier.
Bethany: Thank you, Kayla. That concludes our summary of benefits available to National Guard and Reserve members. For more information on any of these benefits, you can check out VA’s website.
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