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5 insurance types that may offer veterans discounts and benefits

If you're on active duty or have served in the U.S. military, you might save big on many types of insurance through government programs and special discounts from insurers.

Here are five common types of insurance, and what veterans should know about each one.

Insurance discounts veterans are entitled to, by insurance type

1. Health insurance

Health care or insurance options depend on many factors for veterans: whether they're on active duty, whether they're retired or separated from the military, if they have a disability connected to their service, and other factors such as income. Here are the main ways veterans can get health insurance coverage.

  • TRICARE: The U.S. Defense Health Agency's TRICARE program provides health care for active duty troops, Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve members, and military retirees. TRICARE does count as minimum essential coverage under the Affordable Care Act, according to the TRICARE website.
  • The VA system: Some veterans are eligible for health care services through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health system. The VA system is a health care provider and not an insurer, says Carl Blake, national legislative director for the nonprofit Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). However, veterans enrolled in the VA system do not need to purchase insurance to comply with the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act because the care provided by the VA counts as minimum essential coverage. But not all veterans are eligible to enroll in the VA, Blake adds.

The biggest challenge for veterans enrolled in the VA system is access to care, he says. Demand for services continues to increase as young veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, and Vietnam veterans get older and sicker, he says. "The complaint I often hear is how long it took to get an appointment or to be seen by a doctor," Blake says, adding that veterans typically are happy with the quality of care.The VA has eight enrollment-priority groups, with the top priority group consisting of veterans with severe service-related disabilities. Veterans in the lowest priority group -- who are "presumably of a higher income and have no service-connected disability" -- can't enroll; the VA stopped accepting enrollees from that group in 2003, Blake says. Out of a total veteran population of about 22 million, about 9 million are enrolled in the VA system, and 6.5 million use it, Blake says.

  • Other insurance: Many veterans have employer-sponsored private health insurance through their jobs, Blake says. Others are covered by Medicaid or Medicare.  And there are about 1.3 million uninsured veterans in the United States, according to a 2012 report from the Urban Institute.
Online resources for veterans
VA Health Benefits
VA Disability Benefits
VA Life Insurance
VA Specially Adapted Housing Grants
GEICO Military Program

2. Auto insurance.

Some private insurers offer discounts for members of the military. These include:

  • Active military members, veterans who have served honorably, and their families can join the United Services Automobile Association (USAA), a financial services group founded by military members. USAA offers a 15 percent discount on comprehensive auto insurance -- which covers incidents such as car break-ins or damage from animals -- for policyholders who garage their cars on base. That's because cars typically are safer on a military base than outside of one, USAA spokeswoman Rebecca Hirsch says.

USAA has a mission to help its members become more financially secure, Hirsch says, and a survey showed that consumers who switched to USAA saved an average of $409 a year because USAA offered lower rates than their previous insurer, according to the USAA website. Also, policyholders on active duty can save up to 90 percent on premiums while their vehicle is stored on or off base in a secure location and isn’t being driven.

  • The Geico Military Program offers auto and personal property insurance overseas, through partner insurers licensed in the country in which a customer is stationed. Geico also offers a 15 percent discount to some active duty and retired military members, as well as members of the Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve.

3. Home insurance.

For home insurance, USAA offers "competitive rates," Hirsch says. Some companies might sell an endorsement, an addition to a home insurance policy that specifically covers a vacant home while the policyholder is deployed, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

4. Disability coverage and insurance.

The VA offers monthly disability benefits for veterans with a disability linked to an event, injury or disease that happened during military service. The PVA encourages veterans with disabilities that did not result from their military service to look into Social Security disability as an option, Blake says.

5. Life insurance.

The VA offers several types of life insurance to veterans.

  • Some veterans who became disabled through their service but are in otherwise good health can get a Service-Disabled Veterans policy of up to $10,000. Totally disabled veterans can get the coverage free, with the option to buy additional supplemental coverage, according to the VA website.
  • Some veterans with severe disabilities connected to their military service can get Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance.  To be eligible, veterans must have a mortgage on a house they built, bought or remodeled with a Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant from the VA. The policy pays the amount of the mortgage still owed, up to $200,000, at the time of death.

Veterans who want to learn more about programs, insurance discounts and resources available to them should start at the VA's website, Blake recommends. He adds it's a good idea to talk to a service officer from a veterans' service organization who can help a veteran learn about and apply for available benefits.

"There's a ton of resources and information available for veterans," Blake says.

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