This Thursday is Veteran’s Day, and I have a challenge for you.
(Don’t worry, it doesn’t involve ice buckets.)
Check it out. There are a ton of veterans struggling right now, whether it be physically (from service-connected injuries), financially (trying to make ends meet), mentally (dealing with the wounds of PTSD), or all of the above.
Rather than show your appreciation to one of these heroes with an obligatory “thank you for your service,” how about if you be a hero to them this year? Ask them how they’re doing, see if there’s any resources you can help keep an eye out for them, and refer them to this blog post as a starter.
There are a ton of veteran resources that often go unused, simply because the veteran didn’t know they existed, the paperwork is too involved, or the vet couldn’t figure out how they would incorporate the benefit into their daily life.
I’m gonna share with you how I heard about (and took advantage of) two services that helped me save an extra $3,670 per month: education benefits and disability compensation. The money I saved from one of these benefits alone was enough for me to sock away the down payment on the home where I live now.
Getting $2,000+ per month in monthly housing allowance (MHA)
After being honorably discharged in 2007, I had a deadline of 15 years to use my three years of education benefits with the Post-911 G.I. Bill.
It would be a real shame to have that benefit expire and not get the free tuition benefit. But even worse: it would be a bigger shame to miss out on the housing allowance of being a full-time student. With my entitlement being 80% of G.I. Bill benefits, that would come out to around $2,000/month if I qualified as a full-time student here in San Diego.
NOTE: the full MHA is given for on-site classes. If I had been taking online classes, my housing allowance would have been reduced to 80% of $800/month. That why, for me, it was only worth using my three years of G.I. Bill to get a degree if I could figure out a way to take the classes on site.
The problem was: working full-time, I didn’t know what I’d study or, even more so, how I’d find a class schedule that didn’t conflict with my workday.
A few years ago, the nagging to figure out a way to use my G.I. Bill intensified as the 2022 expiration date drew closer. The VA’s choose-a-school website will tell you how much tuition is covered, but it doesn’t go into the details about when classes meet (or for how long) to determine if the school’s schedule could be balanced with a full-time work schedule.
Luckily, I got the info I needed.
I was at a CalVet office to get my drivers’ license updated to say “Veteran.” Which was a great thing to have, but the way, because it means no longer needing to carry a separate ID anytime I was providing proof of service. After I finished getting the paperwork to update my license, I asked one of the workers about the G.I. Bill.
Long story short, I made like Rodney Dangerfield and at 39 years old, went back to school.
Being a full-time student while working full-time was tough. Real-talk: I spent most weeknights doing homework.
Lots of homework.
And on weekends, I would take my pup to the park, find a shady spot for us to relax, and do some more homework.
Are you seeing a theme here?
Some of my friends at the time didn’t understand why I’d willingly put myself through all that. But when I got stressed, I would just remind myself: “$2,000 a month, Jeff. You’re saving an extra $67/day. Keep going.”
But even Zoe was bored with my new routine.
Because National U gets a lot of military students in San Diego, I was lucky enough to get a second tip for my veteran benefits one night while we were all waiting for class to start.
Increasing my VA disability rating from 30% to 80%
As a young ensign new to the Navy, I admittedly had a lot to learn. While standing a nightly watch under the mentorship of Colin, another junior officer, the commanding officer (CO) passed through our area of the ship. He had a quick convo with a senior officer who was on watch with us, and then left to go to bed for the night.
“Shipmate,” by the way, is a nice way of saying “dumb@ss,” because on a floating rust bucket, we have to rely on one another for survival. It only took one uninformed sailor to make a simple mistake that could cost all of us our lives.
Side note: I’ve you’re from the South, it’s the Navy’s equivalent of, “bless her heart!”
That lesson of strategic eavesdropping must have been planted in the back of my mind waiting to deployed, because a few months into my first degree at National U, I overheard a conversation between two students (also military vets).
And this time I was listening.
They were talking about a for-profit service you hire to help with your paperwork to apply for a VA disability rating or increase.
I’d already applied on my own, and gotten assigned to 30% disability.
A few years later, issues with my back worsened and I used the free services at the DAV to help me apply for a rating increase. The DAV was able to get my overall rating increased to 50%.
Around the time of their conversation, I’d had some recent issues with back spasms getting even worse, where I had to very carefully crawl to my roommate’s car to avoid bending any discs in my spine so that he could take me to the ER. After that ordeal, I had the x-rays to prove that my back had gotten worse.
Back to that night in class… I had my laptop open while my classmates were chatting, so I entered the website they were talking about into my web browser — http://vetbenefitsguide.com – and called the company the very next day. #situationalawareness
Ultimately, many months later after waiting for paperwork to be processed, I was amazed to get a letter in the mail saying my rating increased to a whopping 80%!
That brought my monthly disability compensation to a not-too-shabby total of $1,670/month. And that’s for life. The company I called charged me a one-time fee of six times the difference of what they helped me secure, which worked out to be around $6K. They said if I didn’t get an increase, I would owe nothing.
Today, I recommend to other vets to do the same: apply for the benefits yourself, try a free service like DAV, and then use Vet Benefits Guide as an ace in your back pocket, if needed.
But wait, there’s more!
My G.I. Bill I mentioned earlier was only 80% of the total benefit. If a veteran has the full 100% of that benefit, their housing allowance will be even more than what I was getting if their school is in an expensive city like San Diego. According to the VA’s education and training webpage:
“The Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) is generally the same as the military Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for an E-5 with dependents. This rate is variable and dependent on factors such as the location of your school, your rate of pursuit, and whether you enrolled in the program prior to 1/8/18.”
As of today, 100% of the MHA in San Diego (where I live) is $2,949!
But wait, there’s even MORE after that
My two benefits ($2,000 housing allowance for every month I was in school) and $1670 disability compensation (at my newly increased rating) are both tax-free!
That means the combined total I was getting as a full-time student ($3,670) is the equivalent of $5,243/month if I had tried to save up the same amount and then have 30% taken out for taxes.
These benefits are a no-brainer. You HAVE to find a way to use them.
And a bonus tip (…but just the tip)
If you know a veteran who hasn’t used their VA Home Loan Guarantee yet, here’s how to house-hack that thing like a MF-ing boss:
(1) Purchase a multi-family complex and live in the smallest unit so you can claim it as a primary residence (one of the requirements for a VA loan),
(2) Live there for a couple years to satisfy the terms of the loan, thereby reducing your monthly housing expenses, and save a grip of money every month,
(3) Move on to your next investment property, with all that extra cash you’ve saved up for a down payment on your next property. Enjoy even MORE cash-flow after you’ve moved out of the unit you had been occupying in the multi-family complex you bought two years ago.
(4) Learn how to floss so you can celebrate after closing on your next property.
To close out…
Instead of thanking a vet for their service this year on Veteran’s Day, help a brutha out. Share this article on “the social medias,” and tag any veterans you know.
Fair warning, though: these benefits will require some sweat equity. But in the end, it’ll be worth it.
So far, I’ve spent a total of 24 months earning two Masters’ degrees with my G.I. Bill., and the amount of money I socked away from the housing allowance ALONE allowed me to save the down payment I needed for the new condo I now enjoy with my pup.
Luckily, she’s forgiven me for all the long nights of homework.