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Memorial Day: Financial Assistance Available for Families of Minority Veterans

My favorite childhood memory involves getting up early on a Monday morning and all of us piling into the car because …. the Thunderbirds were putting on an air show for Memorial Day! Even before I got to the airfield, I knew what I’d see; flags waving, bands playing, crowds cheering. Physically feeling the reverberation move through every inch of my body as the jets raced past us into one of their coordinated maneuvers.

It was a thrilling way to honor the bravery and sacrifice of those that lost their lives fighting for the United States. But as a young child, as much as I was thrilled to see the Thunderbirds, I was also overwhelmed by the cheering crowds, the bands playing and the noise from the planes rocketing by.

Later as an adult, I was reminded of the airshow when I was navigating the overwhelming number of programs and services for one of my veteran clients. The number of different programs and whether or not he could qualify for them was confusing. It felt a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box to direct my actions.

Veteran benefits were not as simple as the civilian benefits I was accustomed to. In many civilian jobs, 30 days after your employment ends, your benefits often end as well. But those who have served in the military, including people from underserved communities, are entitled to certain benefits because of their veteran status.

These benefits can differ based on the branch of service, years of service and how the veteran served. It can also differ based on the state a veteran lives in, because some benefits are provided at the state level while others are provided at the federal level.

To navigate the various benefits, you need a guide to untangle the mix and find the benefits you are entitled to. For Memorial Day, I thought I would serve as your guide and write a primer on benefits that veteran family members may need to access because of the pandemic.

Wellness
The pandemic highlighted the fragility of a lot of people’s financial safety nets. Veterans from underserved communities and their families were no exception. In fact, some veterans experienced an inability to pay for food, utilities or other necessities. One of the hidden gems available to them are community-based veteran support organizations such as Minority Veterans of America, a nonprofit designed to create belonging and advance equity for under-represented veterans.

These organizations are often run by veterans who have successfully navigated the hodgepodge of services and know exactly who has funding or programs to support veteran families. They offer or can connect veteran families to organizations such as churches that have rental assistance programs or food banks.

Also, the pandemic put added stress on families. Calls and requests related to suicide prevention or domestic violence support increased during the pandemic. While many of these support programs are specifically for the veteran, when the veteran is in a better place, so is their family.

Education
Another area that will put veteran families in a better place is having the skills and education required for the shifting economy. There are new critical benefits that veteran families can take advantage of to update their skills to keep pace with the changing economy.

Many jobs evaporated during the pandemic, leaving some veteran families scrambling to find new employment. Fortunately, the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP) was created under the American Rescue Plan Act to assist veterans with getting retrained in high-demand professions. Unfortunately, this program ends 21 months after March 21, 2021, and is limited to a maximum of 17,250 participants and up to $386 million on a first-come-first-served basis. Definitely check if you are eligible for this program, especially if you are not eligible under the GI Bill.

Housing
The final category of benefits a veteran family may need to avail themselves of are the housing benefits.

Serving in the military can exact a heavy toll on those who served. Twenty-six percent of veterans have a service-connected disability. One of the benefits those veteran families may be eligible to receive is a Disability Housing Grant. A grant from that program provides up to $100,896 (the lifetime maximum) to make modifications to your existing home so the veteran can live there more independently. And because it’s a grant, it’s money the veteran does not have to repay, which is a fantastic benefit. The money can be used to install ramps or widen doorways, among other things.

There is a similar grant that a disabled vet can use to modify a home in which they live but which is owned by a family member.

Good News
To reduce being overwhelmed by multiple programs that require specific qualifications, a veteran family should start with the links included in this article. In addition, don’t forget to connect to a local veteran-based community organization — a good place to start is the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers, which offers county and state directories.

Just as I’ve served as a guide in this article, the staff who run these community-based programs are especially helpful. They have often worked with hundreds of veterans and have the necessary knowledge to increase the likelihood of receiving the benefit to which you’re applying. Having them serve as your guide can save you both time and frustration.

Additional resources include “Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors,” a publication from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Check out www.ebenefits.va.gov, a service provided by the VA and the Department of Defense. This site is in the process of moving some features and capabilities to www.va.gov. Until the transition is complete be sure to check both sites.

Finally, go to LetsMakeAPlan.org, and use the planner search tool to find a CFP® professional with a focus on government and military who can help you navigate the varied benefits you may be entitled to.

To all the men and women who served, thank you for your service.

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Topics
Veterans