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Military benefits give returning veterans a head start

As America pays tribute on Memorial Day to U.S. service members who gave their lives for this country, it's also important to remember others who have served and are still with us.

Some veterans and their families may face significant financial challenges as they transition to civilian life, and many may not be aware of many of the benefits to which they are entitled.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the best-known military benefits for veterans, paying for full tuition and fees at a college or university, a monthly housing allowance while you are in school and $1,000 a year for books and supplies. But it may not cover all education costs.

That's where the Leave No Veteran Behind program comes in. The non-profit organization offers retroactive scholarships for veterans who are not covered by the GI Bill.

"Some had family medical issues which made it take longer to earn their degree. Some wanted a higher degree when their GI Bill benefits would only cover an Associates' degree," said Eli Williamson, co-founder of Leave No Veteran Behind. "Some veterans may have entered the military with a degree and student loans. The GI Bill does not work retroactively, so they still must find a way to pay off that student debt."

A file photo of the U.S. military in Tbilisi, Georgia.
David Mdzinarishvili | Reuters
A file photo of the U.S. military in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The Tillman Military Scholars program, sponsored by the Pat Tillman Foundation, also provides scholarships for veterans as a supplement to the Post-9/11 GI Bill to cover tuition and fees, books and living stipend, for those pursuing undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate degrees as a full-time student at a public or private, U.S.-based accredited institution.

While student loan debt may only be an issue for some veterans and their families, many more may face the financial challenge of paying off credit card debt. Research from the FINRA Foundation shows military service members are more likely to have a greater number of credit cards and more "costly credit card behaviors" than civilians.

Veterans may not be aware of special credit cards with lower interest rates that are designed for military service members and their families. USAA, Pentagon Federal Credit Union and Naval Federal Union are among some of the financial services firms offering lower rates, according to Bankrate.com and Credit Karma. Also veterans should be aware of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which can help to limit the interest rate on certain debts of service members even after they become civilians.