Are you a military spouse who is wondering what benefits and resources you have access to? The truth is, it can be challenging to be a military spouse. A research brief by Rand shows that military spouses are less likely to have a job, more likely to be actively looking for work, and earn less than their civilian counterparts when they do find a job. And that’s not to mention the long deployments, isolation from family as you move from place to place, and for some paygrades, low pay.
But mention these challenges to most military spouses, and you’re likely to get a loud “Oorah” in response (If their spouse is a Marine, that is). The truth is, the government offers some excellent resources and benefits to military spouses. A military spouse can be a man or woman because both genders serve in the military, but for the sake of simplicity, we will refer to military spouses as female in this article.
What’s So Special About A Military Spouse?
The typical military spouse lives a life that few people understand. They are married to a military member who has to put their career at the forefront of everything. They live by rules that few people know about or understand. For example, she must put on a happy face when interacting with her husband’s peers, no matter how grumpy she feels inside. And she will interact with those peers a lot.
On the other hand, a military spouse has the privilege of serving her country, even though it’s not an official title. She supports her husband, who works for the military to help keep the country safe. She is a part of a large community that exists to keep things running smoothly for the men and women who serve. Simply put, military spouses have a supporting role that is vitally important to our nation.
What You Need To Access Your Benefits
Although a military spouse has access to many wonderful programs and benefits, she has to take a few steps before gaining access to them. If you want to take advantage of all the military has for you, be sure to take the following steps.
Get A Copy Of Your Marriage Certificate
You need proof of who you are and the fact that you are married to a military member before accessing any of the military spouse benefits. Your first step is to get an original copy of your marriage certificate from the city or town where you tied the knot.
To take the next step, you also need a copy of your birth certificate and social security card.
Ask Your Spouse To Enroll You In DEERS
Your next step is to ask your spouse to enroll you in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). You and your children must join this system to receive benefits. Your spouse can register you in the system by going to the nearest uniformed services personnel office.
Apply For A Military ID
Now that you’re in the DEERS system, it’s time to apply for a military ID as a military spouse. You will also need to request an ID for any of your children older than ten. Your husband can apply for the ID when he enrolls you in DEERS, or you can go to the ID card facility on base to get the card. You will need your marriage license, birth certificate, photo ID, and form 1172 from the Department of Defense.
Memorize Your Spouse’s Social Security Number
When living as a military spouse, you will use your husband’s social security number more than you use your own, so it’s smart to memorize it, so you always have it when you need it.
Attend A New Spouse Orientation Program
The Military and Family Support Center at your base offers a new spouse orientation program. Take it to learn about the localized programs offered in your area.
Now that you are registered and an official military spouse, it’s time to learn about all the benefits and resources you have at your disposal. Here are the ten most important benefits for a military spouse.
The Top 10 Benefits And Resources For A Military Spouse
As a military spouse, you have access to many programs and benefits that the civilian population doesn’t. Here are 10 of the best military spouse benefits available to you.
Get A Copy Of Your Marriage Certificate
As a military spouse, you can enroll in Tricare, which is a free healthcare plan offered to military members and their dependents. Tricare has several different plans, and you will need to understand which plan is right for you and your family.
Some of the Tricare plans are:
If you’re not sure which health plan is right for you, go to the Tricare website where you will find a Plan Finder feature that offers suggestions.
Spouse Education Assistance
The Department of Defense offers a Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program that gives military spouses education and career advice. It also provides helpful resources and tools you can use as you progress through the process. For example, you can customize a career plan, research occupations and statistics to make a better choice, find a school that fits your needs, and build a resume.
In addition to helping military spouses plan for their careers, the military also offers assistance to help with the costs of school for some people. If you are a dependent of a veteran who died or is disabled, The Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) program may help you pay for up to 45 months of education benefits. You can apply online for this program.
The My Career Advancement Account Scholarship is a workforce development program that offers up to $4,000 in tuition for qualified military spouses. The money can go towards certifications, licenses, or an associate degree in a portable career field.
Finally, the GI Bill allows service members to get a free college education. If they don’t use it, they can transfer it to their military spouse or children. While the bill used to have a time limit for use, President Donald Trump signed legislation that takes away the expiration date.
Counseling And Family Support
When you are a military spouse, you will have relationship issues that the general population doesn’t. For instance, your spouse will go on long deployments, and you will have to move from city to city — or country to country — as you follow your military man.
Luckily, the military understands this and offers counseling and family support for any military spouse who wants it. For example, you can read These Boots, a PDF written to help military spouses deal with deployment. You can also call the Military and Family Support Center and ask for personalized help. And if your kids are struggling, help them through it with this adorable Sesame Street’s interactive program.
For other issues, you can contact the Military and Family Life Counseling Program (MFLC). This program is open to any military spouse who needs to talk to a counselor without the conversation going on record. The counselors don’t take notes or record the conversations. The program serves to relieve some of the stress a military spouse can feel. And if your children could benefit from counseling, the program offers counseling for them, too.
As a military spouse, you can enjoy military discounts at a slew of stores, events, places, and restaurants. All you have to do is carry your military ID with you, and wherever you are, ask if they offer a discount. If you want to know the places near you that offer discounts to military spouses, MilitarySpouse.com put together a great list.
Free Housing Or BAH
If you choose to live on base as a military spouse, you will live rent and mortgage free. Military housing differs depending on your station. Some base housing is beautiful, while other bases offer housing that may not be right for you.
If you choose to off base, you will receive Basic Housing Allowance (BAH), which means the military will pay for a portion of your housing expenses. The sum will vary depending on where you live. For example, if you are in Texas, an affordable state, your BAH will be smaller. But if you live in Japan, where housing is costly, your BAH will be higher. That’s because you will also receive an Overseas Cost of Living Allowance.
Free Legal Help
When you need to create a will, sign a lease, or execute a power of attorney — or attend to other legal formalities — you can receive free legal aid as a military spouse. You should go the nearest legal assistance office and ask for an appointment with a military attorney, called a Judge advocate (JAG).
When you need help finding resources or information, you will have access to the command’s ombudsman. Also called the Family Readiness Support Advisor (FRSA), or Family Readiness Officer (FR)), she serves as a link between a military spouse and the commanding officer. The ombudsman is a military spouse who selflessly takes on the role to support other spouses. The Navy and Coast Guard use ombudsman, while the Army uses the FRSA.
As a military spouse, you will move — a lot. As your husband receives orders to go from base to base, you will have to pack up the house and kids and follow him. But you will have plenty of support in the form of military spouse benefits. For example, the military offers a helpful PDF called, "It’s Your Move" that covers everything you need to know about moving as a military spouse.
If you visit your base’s finance office, someone there will help you calculate your moving expenses. They will also talk to you about the benefits and resources you have available. You can also make use of the military’s specialty consultations to talk to someone about how to best manage your move.
The Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) was created to help military spouses find new jobs when moving to another area. This program partners with hundreds of employers who are willing to hire military spouses in their company.
Finally, Plan My Move is an interactive tool that allows you to use a checklist that will help you control every aspect of your move.
Travel The World
One of the best benefits of being a military spouse is that you get to travel the world — for free. You may be stationed in California one year and Germany the next. You will have the opportunity to live on base or off base in many of these locations. That means you could live among the locals in whatever locale you and your husband live in. Talk about culture immersion!
If you are the military spouse of a deceased military member, you may be eligible for survivor benefits. You can ask for financial counseling, community help, educational assistance, social security benefits, and grief counseling. The military is serious about helping military spouses through the tragedy of losing their loved one. That's why it offers a lot of resources to support them.
Military Spouse Benefits: Find The Right Programs For You
We’ve offered you a lot of benefits and resources that are only available to military spouses. Whether you need to plan a move, get some free legal help, go to school, find a job, get a discount, access survivor benefits, enjoy free housing, or go to the doctor for free, you will find what you need as a military spouse.
What about you? Are you a military spouse? Have you already learned to navigate the system or are you just learning it? If you have any tips for other readers, please leave them in the comments below. It will help make their entry into the life as a military spouse easier!