The Benefits of Service

Article by Matt Gallagher

Let’s talk brass tacks. The rub. The skinny. The straight dope. The benefits, yo. Yes, the military’s an excellent place for young (and young-ish) hard-chargers and gung-hos to make a difference, to put their ideals into practice, to serve their nation, and, of course, to blow shit up with big-ass guns.

These are the usual reasons trotted out when people are asked why they joined up, and they are good reasons. Like many readers, I lived it, loved it, sometimes miss it, sometimes don’t, and know it’ll always be a fundamental part of who I am going forward.

I especially miss the blowing-shit-up-with-big-ass-guns part. There’s nothing in this world like letting a Mark 19 rip… 

But there are other reasons servicemembers enlist. There are other reasons they stay in, too, past their initial contract. These aren’t hidden reasons, exactly. More like layered, subtextual reasons. The benefits: medical, financial, college, all that jazz. They matter, and they matter a lot.

2018 America seems hell-bent on returning workers to the labor underclass of the nineteenth century. At this rate, the American military might well be the last place where the word “pension” is a real goal and not a cruel joke.

The military is a bureaucracy, though, and like any bureaucracy, navigating it can be a maze. Many — too many — servicemembers and veterans don’t know what they’re entitled to and what they’ve earned through their service. Through my work and travels as a veteran-writer, and a few years working for a veterans’ national nonprofit organization, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I wish I’d known about that earlier!” (often accompanied by a few F-bombs for effect).

So. What exact benefits did servicemembers and vets most appreciate? Which ones do they wish they’d learned about earlier? I asked some folks to share their wisdom.

Stephen, retired Master Sergeant, U.S. Air Force
“Without a doubt, the VA Home Loan. I don’t how I didn’t know about it earlier, but it was my wife who pointed me to it a year out [from retirement]. It was huge, letting us direct the money saved for our post-military home to funds for retirement and our kids’ college. And can I say the VA was pretty good to deal with for this? I know. I couldn’t believe it either.”

David, former Specialist, U.S. Army
“I didn’t know I qualified for VA medical health care. No one told me during TAP [transition assistance program]. I thought you had to do twenty years and get full retirement for it. I got out after four years. But because of our combat tour to Iraq, I do get VA medical. It’s not good but it’s better than the shit I had before. The mental health program at my VA has helped…. I still can’t believe no one at TAP told us this. Those two years [before finding out about qualifying for VA care] were fucking hard.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I wish I’d known about that earlier!” (often accompanied by a few F-bombs for effect).

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