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The benefits of serving

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Posted: 6 am ET

It's Veterans Day. If you or your spouse is a veteran, you're entitled to a variety of benefits that can make retirement more comfortable.

Those who served our country may be eligible to receive these four benefits no matter how long ago they were in the military. Practically all veterans qualify for two of them, and lower-income veterans qualify for all four, so make them part of your retirement planning.

Home loans: Veterans can buy homes with no down payment and the seller can pay some closing costs. The U.S. government guarantees the loan, so you don't have to buy additional mortgage insurance, which will lower your payment still more. Eligibility doesn't expire. Even if you have used a VA loan previously, as long as you no longer owe the debt (even if it ended in foreclosure), you probably can qualify for another VA loan. In general, VA loans have lower and more flexible income requirements, so you may qualify even if your income isn't high. There is no upper income limit to using this benefit.

Health care: Anyone who served in the active duty U.S. military and left with anything other than a "dishonorable" discharge is eligible to apply for veteran's health care benefits. There are income limits, but they can be surprisingly generous. Lots of veterans older than 65 find VA health care more affordable and better than Medicare. Especially if money is tight, it is an option that is worth exploring.

Long-term care: The VA's Aid and Attendance long-term care benefit is available to veterans over the age of 65 who served at least 90 days of active service, including at least one day during World War I or II, Korea, Vietnam or the Gulf War. You don't have to be a disabled veteran nor do you have to have served in active conflict. Spouses also are eligible in certain cases. There are income limits, but unlike with Medicaid, there are no look-back or divestment penalties. A doctor must certify that you need help with activities of daily living.

Burial in a national veterans cemetery. Veterans can be buried in one of nearly 140 national cemeteries at no cost to the family. You also may be eligible for a burial allowance. Make sure your family knows where your discharge papers are kept.

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