Get Started With VA

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe VA’s range of services and benefits.
  • List eligibility factors for VA services and benefits, and gather the required documents you need to get your applications started.
  • Apply for VA benefits and services.
  • Print your VA Welcome Kit.

Introduction

The official VA seal

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a variety of benefits and services to eligible Veterans, their spouses, dependents, survivors, and family caregivers.

This unit covers information for Veterans and their spouses about what kinds of services and benefits VA offers and how to access them. Whether you’re new to VA benefits or want to learn more about everything VA has to offer, this module can help you discover available resources and immediately get started.

Illustration of a veteran and spouses accessing VA.gov on the computer
To give you context, information is provided on VA’s vision, core values, and key stats. This unit also provides an overview of the types of benefits available to Veterans and family members, including:

  • Healthcare (medical, vision, and dental), funeral, and memorial services
  • Financial services (compensation, loans, pension, insurance)
  • Education
  • Career transition, job training, and placement support

VA is always adding new services and benefits for Veterans, their spouses, dependents, survivors, and family caregivers. The units in this module are an introduction to many of the resources that are available, but it does not cover the full extent of VA services and benefits. 



If you are looking for additional services or benefits not mentioned here, contact your local VA or the White House VA Hotline at 855-948-2311. Hotline agents are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will collect the information and route it to the appropriate administration to be addressed. 


Get to Know VA

The US has the most comprehensive system of assistance for Veterans of any nation in the world and has provided benefits to Veterans as far back as the Revolutionary War. 

As the US entered World War I in 1917, Congress established a new system of Veterans benefits, including programs for disability compensation, insurance for service personnel and Veterans, and vocational rehabilitation for the disabled. VA evolved to provide additional benefits and services to Veterans over time and was ultimately elevated to a cabinet-level executive department in 1988. 

In 1989, the Veterans Administration was renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs, and continued to be known as VA.

Today, VA is the largest integrated healthcare system in the US, providing care to over 9 million Veterans across more than 1,500 healthcare facilities, including 172 VA medical centers, more than 1,280 outpatient clinics, and 300 Vet Centers. VA facilities are in every state and some locations outside the US. In addition to these direct care facilities, VA provides healthcare under the VA MISSION Act to millions of veterans through contracted healthcare providers around the world. 

VA’s vision is to provide Veterans the world-class benefits and services they have earned—and to do so by adhering to the highest standards of compassion, commitment, excellence, professionalism, integrity, accountability, and stewardship. 

VA Benefits

VA provides many benefits and services to Veterans, their spouses, dependents, survivors, and family caregivers. Just to name a few:

  • Health benefits: VA offers health services, including primary care, and vision and dental care. VA also provides specialty care services, including surgery, critical care, mental health, orthopedics, pharmacy, radiology, and physical therapy.
  • Financial assistance benefits: VA provides a variety of financial assistance benefits such as compensation, pension, life insurance, and home loan programs.
  • Education and training: VA provides educational benefits through programs like the GI Bill and offers assistance in paying college tuition, finding the right school or training program, and getting career counseling.
  • Transition assistance, career planning, and economic development: VA provides personalized career planning, guidance, and the Transition Assistance Program to help Veterans and their families achieve and sustain career goals, find economic success, and maintain physical and mental well-being.
  • Vocational rehabilitation and employment: VA can help with job training, employment accommodations, resume development, and coaching on job seeking skills. There are also resources to help Veterans start their own businesses or independent living services for those who are severely disabled.
  • Funeral and memorial services: VA provides burial and memorial benefits for Veterans and their eligible family members, and maintains national cemeteries as national shrines.
Note

You can learn more about VA benefits for service members, including time-sensitive benefits, at www.va.gov/service-member-benefits. You can learn more about VA benefits for spouses, dependents, survivors, and family caregivers at www.va.gov/family-member-benefits

VA benefits also include care for mental health and suicide prevention. 

Note

If you or a Veteran you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1; text to 838255; or chat online.

Determine Your Benefits Eligibility and Gather Required Documentation

You may be able to get VA benefits if you are a veteran who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.

If you enlisted after September 7, 1980, or entered active duty after October 16, 1981, you must have served 24 continuous months or the full period for which you were called to active duty, unless any of the descriptions below are true for you. 

  • You were discharged for a disability that was caused—or made worse—by your active-duty service
  • You were discharged for a hardship or “early out”

If you’re a current or former member of the Reserves or National Guard, you must have been called to active duty by a federal order and completed the full period for which you were called or ordered to active duty. If you had or have active-duty status for training purposes only, you don’t qualify for VA healthcare.

You may qualify for enhanced eligibility status (meaning you’ll be placed in a higher priority group, which makes you more likely to get benefits) if you meet certain requirements.

VA is committed to providing free healthcare for conditions related to military service and for Veterans with catastrophic disabilities and disability ratings of at least 50%, as well as for those who can't afford to pay for care.

Note

Visit www.va.gov/health-care/eligibility to learn more about eligibility for VA benefits and services. 


Required Documents

No matter what VA services and benefits you’re interested in, there are a few key pieces of information that are helpful to gather before starting the enrollment process. 

  • Your Social Security number
  • A copy of your military discharge papers (DD214 or other separation documents)
  • A copy of your military medical records documenting service-connected injuries or illnesses
  • Financial information, including your dependents’ financial information
  • Your most recent tax return
  • Account numbers for any health insurance you currently have (such as Medicare, private insurance, or insurance from an employer)

Apply for Benefits

When you are ready to apply, the first step is to create a VA.gov (formerly eBenefits.va.gov) account. After you create a VA.gov account you can apply for and manage many of your VA benefits, including healthcare, loans, education, and pension.

You can also apply by phone, by mail, in person, or with the help of a trained professional. Veteran service organizations and their representatives play a vital role in this process, often representing Veterans for free in their claims for benefits. 

Locate Your Closest VA Location

Choose a VA facility near you for healthcare appointments and other services. Use the VA locator to find your closest VA facility or specific VA services. Or search by state for VA facilities in your region.

Download Your VA Welcome Kit

Whether you’re just getting out of the service or you’ve been a civilian for years, the VA Welcome Kit can help guide you to the benefits and services you’ve earned. 

The most current version of the VA Welcome Kit is available online to download or print whenever you need it. You can turn to it throughout your life—like when it’s time to go to school, get a job, buy a house, get healthcare, retire, or make plans for your care as you age. Share this guide with friends or family members who need help with their benefits too.

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