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Service members cheating themselves out of military benefits

Too many newly-divorced service members trying to reassemble their lives are leaving Uncle Sam's gifts on the table. Take the Air Force, for example. Too many airmen wait too long to secure benefits for their dependents, including dependents who were born out of wedlock or are children of divorce. Dependent children are entitled to benefits even if they live with a non-military parent, and in some cases the former spouse is also eligible for military benefits.

The more complicated the family situation, the more reluctant service members may be to explore the military benefits system. Anyone who has ever been through basic training knows it is never a good idea to draw too much attention to one's self. In the case of the Air Force, officials say newly married or recently divorced service members will show up for basic and not get their family benefits situation squared away, assuming all of that can be taken care of later. By the time you are transferred to your first duty station, it's too late. Former spouses can get benefits if the service member has at least 20 years in and the ex-spouse was married to that person for 15 to 20 of those years. There are other conditions as well.

So why is the military so interested in making sure everyone gets all their benefits? It has to do with readiness. Service members who are concerned or distracted about health care benefits for themselves and their children are not focused on the mission, so the motive behind this push is not entirely altruistic. In civilian life there are very few situations where an insurance company will come running after you post-divorce, urging you to take the medical coverage being offered. Get some good advice about what is available and get what your service to the country has earned.

Source: Air Force News, "New spouses, former spouses and children entitled to benefits," Debbie Gildea, Nov. 15, 2012

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