There are plenty of lofty quarantine goals going on right now. We stand firm that using this time to start marathon training, grab a new certification or simply up your nap game are all worthy endeavors. However, there is one thing which all service members should be checking in on right now: their benefits.
Beyond the paycheck, there's plenty of benefits offered to military personnel that way too often go unutilized. The second we can all get back to "normal" life again is the second things like "use or lose days" and tuition assistance packets should be tossed into play. We've conveniently outlined everything you should square away while we all know you have the time.
1. Use or lose days
Americans have a weird unspoken tradition of taking pride in hoarding (and never using) vacation days. "Use or lose" refers to the unused vacation days service members accrue that are carried over into the next fiscal year. Anything above 60 days of leave "in the bank" will be slapped with an expiration date, which is when you either use them by a certain date or lose them. At 2.5 days per month earned, things can add up at high tempo locations.
We're fiercely advocating to end that weirdness right now and mandating that you book a trip to go on before the end of the year once all the travel bans are lifted, get out, and enjoy the freedom you protect. A long weekend getaway, a surf trip, or a drive down the 101 highway are all exactly what you need to recharge and show back up to work even better than before.
2. Tuition assistance
Tuition assistance is one of the best benefits available to service members across multiple branches. It's not the GI Bill and it's not a loan. Plainly put, tuition assistance is a certain dollar amount you are eligible for per semester to use toward earning college credit.
Participating universities often offer flexible online courses that can accommodate for field training, deployments and occasionally give credit for military training courses you have already completed depending on your degree.
If you're sitting on your couch, three years into active duty and haven't used a penny, we suggest starting. Earning a degree slowly while on active duty, all without touching your GI Bill benefits is smart.
3. Pay changes after a PCS
Ok so this isn't a benefit per se, but it's a big mistake we see made way too often that can send your finances into a death spiral that is hard to recover from. Special pay options like hazard, jump, flight or any other hardship or incentive pay you're receiving thanks to specific circumstances don't always transfer with you from one PCS to another.
Knowing exactly what special pay benefits will or will not transfer with you in addition to the incoming new BAH and BAS rate you fall under is essential. Why? Because nothing is worse than earning an extra few hundred dollars each month, having the military find the mistake (they will) and then having it all taken from your next paycheck leaving you with next to nothing to cover your bills.
There is no such thing as tricking the military in terms of pay. Making a mistake with your pay will never be a "my bad" situation that you benefit from. Always know exactly what you should be paid, put in the correct paperwork to stop special pay, and meticulously check your LES statements to ensure the figures are correct.
4. Special programs for dependents
There's enough out there in terms of programs, scholarships, grants, loans and more that it would take an entire other article (or three) to outline, so we'll keep it brief. Just like service members, military dependents should investigate opportunities first before tackling any educational costs out of pocket.
The Army Emergency Relief rolled out an exciting new program offering up to $2,500 that spouses can apply for toward professional relicensing expenses when they PCS. Also new from AER is a Child Care Assistance Program created to help offset areas with high living expenses at up to $500 per month per family in the few months after a PCS.
Military spouses are offered preference when applying for certain DoD and other governmental jobs, including working for USDA, US Fish and Wildlife jobs and more.
The bottom line here is that when the quarantine is over, we should all emerge smarter, stronger and ready to take charge of our lives. So check your benefits and make sure you're getting all you can out of your paychecks.
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