Retirement for a veteran isn't like retirement in the private sector. It's based on years in the service, so someone who enlists at 17 can retire and start claiming benefits at 37. As a spouse, you're entitled to some of the benefits, even if you marry the vet after retirement. In 2013, the U.S. government also began providing benefits to same-sex spouses.
When you get married, that doesn't entitle your veteran spouse to any extra retirement pay. What's more, retirement pay stops when he dies, regardless of his marital status. However, the military automatically enrolls veterans in a survivor benefit plan that pays spouses a monthly annuity to compensate for the loss of income. If you weren't married to your spouse when he retired, you have to be married for at least one year before his death to qualify for benefits.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a pension for veterans who are disabled or have turned 65. The pension amount is based on how far below the qualifying income the vet's family income falls: if the cutoff is $16,000 and the veteran earns $9,000, that's a $7,000 pension. Income doesn't include welfare benefits, some income earned by your child dependents or any supplemental Social Security income you receive. Your medical expenses can also be deducted from your income to help with your qualification, but those expenses must exceed 5 percent of the military annual percentage rate, or MAPR. If you have income of your own, marrying will cut into the pension because your money gets added to the mix.
The military's G.I. Bill offers veterans 36 months of benefits for college, vocational schools and other programs. If your spouse meets the various qualifications — serving at least six years, for instance — he can transfer any unused benefits to you. For example, if he's used 18 months of benefits, you can claim the other 18. This includes full tuition and fees at in-state public schools or partial tuition at private schools. Spouses have 15 years after retirement to use this benefit.
As a veteran's spouse, your spouse's health benefits expand to include you. The Tricare insurance program, for example, provides health insurance to military retirees. It also covers spouses and children. Even if you divorce or your spouse dies, you stay covered unless you remarry. There are other military medical benefits such as VA medical coverage. Like the VA pension, the greater your family income, the less access to coverage you and your spouse have.
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