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Dec. 2, 2020, 4:58 a.m. EST

Grants and loans for military veterans you may not know about

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Kimberly Lankford

This article is reprinted by permission from  .

Even if you served in the military years ago, you may be eligible for valuable grants or interest-free loans for veterans — and not even know it. This year, special funds have been expanded to help vets and their families deal with COVID-related financial challenges.

These programs, from military aid societies and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), can provide thousands of dollars to certain veterans and their families for emergency expenses, college scholarships, disaster relief and home renovations to help age in place. (A new study from Own Up, which compares rates by lenders, found a  large spread in the rates private lenders charge for VA loans .)

Retired Air Force Master Sergeant Jason Lingenfelter and his wife, Air Force veteran Christy Lingenfelter, are grateful for receiving a grant from the Air Force Aid Society after Hurricane Michael damaged their home in the Florida Panhandle in 2018. A tree from their neighbor’s yard fell on their roof, creating a 2-foot hole in their son’s bedroom, and the ceiling collapsed in their daughter’s room. After a neighbor told them the Air Force Aid Society was providing grants, they immediately applied. “We drove an hour and a half to Eglin Air Force Base to receive the $1,500 grant check, and we were so excited by how easy it was,” says Christy.

Here are details on grants and loans from military aid societies and the Department of Veterans Affairs:

Every branch of the service — Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Air Force — has a military aid society that provides grants and interest-free loans to assist service members and military retirees with unexpected expenses. These aid societies have generally been around since either the 1920s or the 1940s.

They’ve all expanded their programs for financial challenges due the coronavirus pandemic, such as child-care costs when schools were closed, bills when someone in the family was laid off and emergency travel costs as a result of a coronavirus-related death of an immediate family member.

“Other common categories of assistance with retired soldiers are basic living expenses such as food, utilities, rent, minor home repairs such as a new roof, new appliance, and auto repair such as new tires and transmission repair,” says Matt Howland of Army Emergency Relief.

In fact, more than 10,000 servicemembers, military retirees and family members have received nearly $15 million in COVID-19 relief grants and loans from the military aid societies.

The emergency funds are typically available to veterans who served 20 years or more on active duty or are retired due to medical reasons. Spouses and surviving spouses are eligible for many of these benefits, too. The aid societies also offer grants and loans to servicemembers and retirees (and their families) that aren’t related to emergency expenses.

For instance, The Air Force Aid Society provides college education grants of $500 to $4,000 to spouses and dependent children of Air Force servicemembers and dependent children of retirees.

“We set aside almost six million dollars every year for this program, and retirees’ families make up a great number of this group,” says Linda Egentowich, chief operating officer for the Air Force Aid Society. Those grants are need-based and recipients must be full-time students with a GPA of more than 2.0.

The Air Force Aid Society also provides up to $1,000 in interest-free loans for supplemental college costs, such as textbooks, and awards 15 to 20 merit-based scholarships of $5,000 annually to incoming freshmen.

Army Emergency Relief has a program for Army spouses that helps pay for full-time or part-time study toward an undergraduate degree or professional certification.

Most of the military aid societies also have robust  disaster relief  programs for servicemembers and retirees.

“We’ve been there for them during the hurricanes in the Gulf,” says Alena Howard, chief development officer for Coast Guard Mutual Assistance.

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