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Veterans and military guide to insurance

Veterans and military guide to insurance

Veterans and those still serving are often entitled to privileges and discounts on much of their insurance needs. However, they can also face special challenges. Knowing how to navigate your way through these can maximize the protection you get when insuring the things you care about while minimizing the costs. Our guide will help you understand what’s available to you and how to get it.

Plenty of insurance companies offer discounts to veterans and those still serving, alongside policies and programs tailored to address particular needs that can arise from service. These are available across a full range of insurance products:

 

 

Who is eligible?

It's up to each company to decide how it's going to define "veteran" and "service member," but many are likely to use the eligibility criteria adopted by the Veterans Administration (VA) for the first. However, some may differentiate between active duty personnel, according to the VA, those who "work for the military full time, may live on a military base, and can be deployed at any time," and those who are in the Reserve or National Guard.

So if you're not serving in an active-duty capacity, it's important to check with individual insurers to see if you qualify for their offerings.

Whether you're a veteran or are still serving, it's worth reading on so you can make the most of the benefits on offer while avoiding the pitfalls ahead.

Auto insurance for veterans and military personnel

A company that understands the particular needs that can arise from your past or present service can be very helpful, since auto insurance is one of the areas where veterans and service members can find the biggest discounts.

Your auto insurance coverage generally consists of four main components:

As a veteran or service member at home, you’ll need the same coverages as anyone else driving the streets, so there aren’t special programs specifically for veterans, but you should find an auto insurer who will give discounted rates. The two most common are USAA and GEICO, but since insurers rate differently all the factors that affect your car insurance, comparing quotes is the only way to get the lowest rate for you.

Active members who are deployed

If you’re an active member and will be deploying, you have five options:

  1. Continue to pay the current policy – This is the most expensive option, since you’re paying for coverages you won’t use and probably not the best choice for most people. However, if you’re in need of improving your credit rating, your insurance rating or trying to create or maintain a positive account to earn lower rates in the future, then this might pay off in the long run.
  2. Suspend your insurance – This will save you the most money without losing your relationship with your insurer, but it can be complicated. Eligibility depends on location and drivers with loans are often ineligible. Also, if something happens to your vehicle while it’s suspended, you’re on the hook for all the costs.
  3. Get storage insurance – This is the best option for most people. It’s similar to suspending the policy, as it allows you to maintain your relationship with the insurer, but it differs in that you will pay a small premium in order to maintain comprehensive coverage, which would cover fire, vandalism and other mishaps. In order to be eligible, you must prove that your vehicle will be stored in a safe place and not driven by anyone.
  4. Cancel your policy – If you can’t afford to continue any coverage on your vehicle, then you can consider canceling the policy. This isn’t the best long-term solution, however, as insurers don’t like to see gaps in policies.  However, some insurers do not count this time away as a gap if you follow certain procedures.
  5. Exclude yourself from a vehicle – You may not be the only driver of a vehicle, and therefore, you can call and have yourself removed from the policy. The vehicle’s policy is otherwise unchanged, and the other driver is not impacted.  Only try this option if you being on the policy is increasing the premium. If you are a preferred driver (one that is low risks, you could be helping to bring down the premium, so excluding yourself from the policy would cause the overall premiums to rise.

If your car is financed or leased, you may have fewer options.  For instance, a finance company will normally req

uire you keep collision and comprehensive on the vehicle. And, a leasing company will require its vehicle’s insurance policy to have comp and collision as well as liability insurance coverage through the lease period. That holds true even if you’re not using the vehicle.

Always be sure to mention your military status and plans for deploying when discussing your motor vehicle registration and insurance policy with your insurer or the DMV, so the representative or agent can help find the best solution for your circumstan

vet pull quote

ces.  Typically, if you remove state-mandated liability coverages, you need to turn in your registration and plates to the DMV; however, many states have special provisions for military members, so be sure to check.

Disabled veterans with prostheses

If, as a direct result of your service, you have prosthesis or a severe disability, the VA should normally provide a grant to purchase and/or adapt a vehicle that meets your needs. Veterans whose disabilities were not a result of their service may be able to get help, but to a lesser degree.

As of October 2016, eligible members may receive a one-time grant of up to $20,235 toward the purchase of an automobile or other conveyance if you have certain service-connected disabilities. Review the eligibility requirements and conditions of the grant because you must have approval before purchasing a vehicle or adaptive equipment.

Certain service members and Veterans may be eligible for adaptive equipment. Adaptive equipment includes, but is not limited to, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seats, and special equipment necessary to assist the eligible person into and out of the vehicle.

The VA may provide financial assistance in purchasing adaptive equipment more than once. This benefit is payable to either the seller or the Veteran or service member.

You're still left with the need for insurance. The good news is that, providing the adaptations to your vehicle make it safe for you to drive, you shouldn't pay higher premiums for liability coverage. You’ll need to declare your disability to your insurer and, if requested, provide a letter from your doctor confirming your fitness to drive.

Your collision and comprehensive coverage  may not cover the cost of those adaptations since they are additions to the vehicle.  Because they won't normally be covered if they're lost, damaged or written off with the car due to an accident, fire or theft, you should see if a custom parts and equipment endorsement would cover them.  An endorsement costs extra, but also gives you extra coverage.

Insurance discounts, money-saving tips for veterans and service members

Your service can get you a great discount, but that's just one of many to which you might be entitled, including:

  • Bundling -- Get your car insurance from the same company as your home policy and you could make big savings. Generally, the more policies you bundle, the bigger the discounts.
  • Multi-vehicle -- Insure more than one car or truck with the same insurer and you could save more. 
  • Safe driving and safe vehicle -- You're likely to get additional discounts if you have a record of driving safely, have attended safe- or defensive-driving courses, and if your car has good safety and security features.
  • Payment discounts -- Pay your whole premium upfront, set up auto pay or run your account online and you could earn yet more discounts.

Miltary specific discounts are offered by some auto insurance providers. 

You’ll see in the chart below insurance companies that support veterans and military members with special coverage options or discounts, or both. Check with your insurer to find details of discount amounts and special offers, which may vary by state. 

Companies with military discountsDiscount or support
21st Century Offers discount
AAA Varies by location, in select states offers military discount.
American Family Insurance Doesn't state specific discount but waives coverage lapse due to active duty.
Armed Forces Institute Offers discount
Direct General Up to 25% if active service member
Esurance Doesn't note specific discount but supports military by not counting time without coverage as a gap for deployed service members.
Farmers Offers discounts
GEICO Discounts for emergency deployment up to 25% off, military up to 15% off (active duty, retired or member of National Guard or Rerserves).
Metromile Does not state specific discount but touts that since military members may not drive much on bases or when deployed, they will pay less for their insurance since full premium is based on miles.
Nationwide Partnered with VetFriends.com, show your premium membership card to this organization at Nationwide offices and get up to 20% off.
Progressive Offers a specific military discount in states where it's required by law. In some states, considers your occupation when determining your rate, so a member of the military might get a slightly lower rate, even if it's not called out as a specific discount.
State Farm In select states offers military discount
The General Offers discount
Titan Insurance Offers discount
USAA Offers a few discounts, including up to 15% off comprehensive coverage when car garaged on base.

*Information was found March 2-3, 2017 by reviewing  websites of car insurance companies.

Geico offers a military discount that includes:

  • Up to 15% discount
  • Emergency deployment discount
  • Membership discount (AUSA, FRA, NIA)

USAA is available to active military, veterans and their families only.  They offer discounts such as:

  • Up to 15 percent off comprehensive coverage when you garage your vehicle on a military installation.
  • Family discount for children of policyholders who continue the tradition of carrying USAA auto insurance, up to 10 percent on the child’s policy.
  • When you place your vehicle in storage you can get a discount of up to 60 percent.

American Family Insurance has special offers for armed force members:

  • If applying to reinstate that lapsed due to active duty, will be treated as if you had continuous coverage.
  • If just returned from active duty and applying as new customer, you will be viewed as having prior insurance.

Esurance does not count time without coverage as a gap for deployed service members if you inform it of the deployment beforehand and when reinstating your policy you provide a letter from your commanding officer that lists the dates of your deployment and verifies that you haven’t driven any civilian vehicles in the U.S. during that time.

Esurance also notes that in Indiana you can qualify for its “Switch & Save discount” without switching companies for a variety of reasons including “if you’ve been stationed overseas for military duty or other foreign-service reasons for at least 6 months and had a lapse in coverage.”

Discounts are required in a few states for military members. 

Since 2005, Louisiana has required auto insurers to offer a discount of 25 percent for active military personnel on their auto liability insurance. Montana and Kentucky mandate a premium discount for military members who have completed a defensive driving course.  Louisiana lawmakers have discussed mandating a discount for retired members of the United States Armed Forces, but have yet to pass such a law.

Vet pull quote home insuranceLearn more about getting cheaper auto insurance.

Homeowners insurance for veterans and military personnel

One of the biggest financial perks of military service is the qualification for a VA mortgage loan. These loans are backed by the government, so they require less security from the individual receiving the loan. The main advantages to a VA mortgage loan are the competitive interest rates, no requirement of a down payment and no private mortgage insurance.

One thing you may be less clear about is the requirement for homeowners insurance that comes with all mortgages, including those backed by the VA. Because your loan is secured by your home – meaning the lender can foreclose and sell it if you don't keep up payments -- your mortgage agreement is going to compel you to protect the lender's security by insuring your property properly.

Ways to save

For veterans who have completed service, there are no veteran-specific programs. You will need to have a homeowners insurance policy on your mortgage that’s no different from a civilian’s homeowners policy. However, for the best savings, follow these strategies:

Bundle you home and auto policy. It’s a good idea to bundle your homeowners policy with the same carrier as your auto insurance. And if you have any recreational vehicles or valuable personal items that need coverage, be sure to cover them with the same issuer.

Raise your deductible.  The more you pay out-of-pocket, the less your insurer may have to pay out in case of a claim, thus your rates will be lower.

Make your home secure.  Small discounts for items like dead-bolts, burglar alarm, smoke detectors and having a fire extinguisher can add up.  You can get even bigger discounts for interior sprinkler systems or a fire and burglar alarm that is monitored.

Upgrade your home against storms and natural disasters.  You can receive discounts for reinforcing your roof (or buying certain roofing materials) and attaching storm shutters to your home.  Updating your plumbing, heating and electrical systems may also earn you lower rates since these items are less like to fail (and lead to claims) as older equipment.

Practice regular home maintenance.  Home insurance providers can inspect your home and if it finds that you have not maintained it well, you may not be offered a policy or receive a non-renewal notice.  Also, by maintaining your home you’ll hopefully catch problems as they arise, such as a leaking pipe and have it repaired before the damage is too severe. 

Louisiana law authorizes that active military personnel can receive a 10 percent discount on a homeowners insurance policy purchased in Louisiana, but this is not mandated like the auto insurance discount. 

Both USAA and GEICO offer policies in both auto and home areas for service members, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shop around. Make it a point to get quotes from at least three companies that can offer a discount for bundling. Always be sure to mention your veteran status.

Get a homeowners quote from GEICO or shop carriers in your area.

Deployment and homeowners insurance

Insurers hate unoccupied homes, simply because they are at greater risk of theft, vandalism, fire, flood and other hazards. So most homeowner policies limit the period a home may be left vacant to 60 or even 30 days. And that can be a problem if you're suddenly deployed or posted a long way from home.

When you're shopping for homeowners insurance, check the following with each candidate company:

  • Do they have a deployment policy in place?
  • How long can your home be unoccupied before coverage is dropped?
  • How much it would charge for the necessary "policy endorsements" (changes to the policy's standard provisions) that will see your coverage maintained.

Renting your home might be a solution

Renting or allowing someone to live in your home while you’re deployed can be a great solution. Having someone live in your home while you are gone can help with these possible issues:

  • Avoid loss of homeowners insurance
  • Routine maintenance to the home
  • Pet care
  • Prevent possible vandalism, break-ins, fires or flooding

Not all companies will allow your home to be rented out, however, so be sure to check with your insurer first before making arrangements. And be sure that the person who lives in your home while you’re away gets their own renters insurance policy.

Life insurance for veterans and military personnel

Private insurance companies are less than enthusiastic about providing life insurance to people who face dangerous situations for a living or who are potentially suffering from the aftereffects. So the government has stepped in to provide some of the protection you need.

Most of the policies provided to service members are term life policies; however, it may be possible to convert those policies to whole life coverage.

Term life insurance - When you buy a term life policy, you are buying a promise from an insurance company that it will pay your beneficiaries a set amount if you die during the policy’s term. In exchange, you pay a set monthly premium to the company for the duration of that term.

Whole Life insurance - A whole life policy provides a set amount of coverage for your entire life. As long as the premiums are paid, your beneficiary will receive the benefit amount upon your death. Whole life policies also build up "cash value" from part of the premium being invested. It’s possible to access that cash value as the funds grow.

Government programs for life insurance

Thanks to the military's love of abbreviations, your service should have prepared you for the alphabet soup of government programs available, which would surely leave most civilians dazed and confused.

Active servicemembers

  • Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI): You get to decide the monthly payments you want to make between $4.50 and $29.00 and will get $50,000-$400,000 of term life coverage in return. Don't believe the many rumors and myths surrounding this program and the VGLI one (below).
  • Family Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (FSGLI): This program provides term life coverage coverage for spouses and dependent children of SGLI members. The service member is the policy owner and pays the premium, however there is no cost for insuring dependent children.
  • Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance - Disability Extension (SGLI-DE): If you're disabled and cannot work at the time of your discharge, you're normally entitled to free SGLI coverage for 24 months after you separate from the service, after which you can join the VGLI program (below).
  • Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI): Those SGLI monthly payments above include $1 a month for this short-term coverage, which provides $25,000-$100,000 benefits if you suffer a qualifying traumatic injury.

Veterans

  • Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI): You can transition your SGLI coverage to the VGLI when you separate from the service, but you must do so within a set time, which varies depending on the circumstances in which you separated. Coverage doesn’t expire, as with a term policy, but the premiums will increase with age.
  • Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI): If you're a disabled veteran who's received a VA Specially Adapted Housing Grant and choose to pay for this coverage, it should pay off your mortgage up to $200,000 on your death.
  • Service-Disabled Veterans' Insurance (S-DVI): This one's complicated. You can generally get coverage providing up to $10,000 in benefits if you have had a new (not upgraded) rating for a service-related condition within the last two years, but are otherwise in good health. If you're totally disabled and can't work, your payments may be waived.
  • Supplemental Service-Disabled Veterans' Insurance (Supplemental S-DVI): If your payments are waived on your existing S-DVI coverage, you can opt to pay for up to $30,000 additional coverage.

Use our life insurance needs calculator to determine your life insurance needs and access if you have enough coverage or will need supplemental coverage.

Vet pull quote no contestability


No contestability period for VGLI

 

VGLI coverage kicks in the moment you're accepted and pay your first premium, while some private companies may impose a "contestability period," which would prevent you making any claim within a certain time, often two years from the policy's start date. And, unlike some insurers, VGLI won't turn you down, increase your premiums or refuse to pay out if you commit suicide or have the following:

  • A smoking habit
  • A traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Any mental illness
  • A dangerous job
  • Dangerous recreational pursuits

 

Private life insurance is still an option as a supplement

That's not to say you can only insure your life through publicly managed programs. Although these generally supplement rather than replace the benefits provided under the government's offerings, they can be genuinely attractive.

Not only do they allow you to provide bigger sums for your family if the worst happens, they also provide continuity of coverage when you leave the service. That means your monthly payments shouldn't be affected if you leave with physical or mental issues, because you won't need a physical. And, of course, those payments will be based on your age when you first sign up for your policy, so they should be lower than they're going to be when you eventually become a veteran.

If you are considering comparing against or supplementing with a policy from a private insurer, pay attention to the coverage levels, exclusions and conditions a private insurer provides against the VA's program. You can find supplemental policies with some of the best life insurance companies.

Health insurance for veterans and military personnel

Service members

For as long as you continue to serve, you're unlikely to find better health insurance than that provided by the military. You're automatically enrolled in its TRICARE Prime program, and you can enroll your immediate family. As an active duty service member, you'll have to pay nothing out-of-pocket, and your family members will have minimal out-of-pocket expenses unless they opt to use the Point-of-Service option, which provides more flexibility but requires some additional fees. There is also TRICARE Supplemental, which is available to those on TRICARE plans. It helps pay out-of-pocket expenses.

If you're not on active service but are otherwise eligible, you can still join TRICARE Prime or its little brothers TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra, which are more affordable but less comprehensive options. However, you're going to have to pay enrollment fees, which for Prime which currently are between $282.60 a year for a single person and $565.20 for a family, plus network co-payments. Fees are slightly higher if you pay quarterly or monthly. 

Veterans

Things become more complicated for veterans. We're used to health services being delivered by private-sector hospitals, clinicians and so on, and paid for either by a private-sector insurer with co-payments or wholly from an individual's own resources. But VA programs both provide the care and pay for it.

In order to get VA health care benefits, you must complete and submit an application on the VA website or by phone. Once received, the VA will determine your eligibility for enrollment.

Health care enrollment

Vet pull quote health care enrollmentHealth care is different from other insurance options in that you cannot buy or change health insurance any time you like. Instead, you must be making a policy change during an open enrollment period or have a qualifying event which makes you eligible for a special enrollment period.  

For veterans, however, there is no need to wait for open enrollment. Veterans are allowed to submit an application for benefits at any time. – To enroll in Tricare or Veterans health care programs, there is no open enrollment period. However, if you’re  buying coverage in a Marketplace or own individual plan with an outside health insurer, you still have to abide by annual enrollment deadlines .

In place of the VA's offering, many veterans could be eligible for the Tricare for Life program if they have Medicare Parts A and B.

The private health insurance option

Of course, you're not obliged to take government offerings, and many veterans who could use them opt to go with a private insurer. Often, that's because a new employer provides coverage or coverage is required for family members.

Of course, some have little choice. If you have serious physical or mental conditions, you're likely to struggle to find affordable -- and sometimes any -- coverage from private insurers. On the other hand, not every veteran is entitled to enroll in VA programs, though all can apply at any time.

If you already have private medical insurance, you should think carefully before giving it up. Consider these factors:

  • How it might affect your family
  • How hard it might be to get coverage back if you later change your mind
  • What would happen if the law changes in the future and you're suddenly ineligible for VA or TRICARE for Life programs

If you’re thinking about enrolling with a private health insurer, review the best health insurance companies.

Making sure your insurance fits your needs

Nobody enjoys reading dense text stuffed with legal jargon, but you really need to have a reasonable understanding of what your policy says. True, you can ask your insurer for guidance, but courts are likely to prioritize what's written in your policy over some oral assurance you got from a call center agent. The more you understand about your policy, the few unpleasant surprises you’ll encounter. You can find additional information on how to read your individual insurance policies below:

Your service is recognized by many in the insurance industry, and can entitle you to discounts, perks and privileges. However, you shouldn't focus solely on  discounts. Sometimes companies quote higher base figures just so they can offer bigger sounding discounts.

Getting the best insurance is really about doing due diligence. The way you can be sure you're getting the best deal is to shop around using the best insurance companies and compare scores, reviews, financial strength ratings and quotes every time you renew or amend one of your policies. When you do, focus on the bottom line after discounts (what you pay) and the coverage that's going to buy you.