Military Benefits for Spouses

Written by: Tom Jackson

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The military may travel on its stomach, but individual service members draw their greatest strength from the support of their spouses. While spouses receive no direct pay for their support role, they are a vital part of military life and enjoy a wide variety of benefits as a result of being married to a service member.

After registering their relationship with the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS), military spouses can access a host of benefits that include:

  • Access to military commissaries and exchanges
  • Confidential counseling for non-medical issues
  • Education and career planning advice
  • Free tax services
  • Health care and health insurance
  • Military discounts at retailers, transportation services, and more
  • Use of gyms, libraries and other recreation opportunities

In addition to these tangible benefits, military spouses also receive many intangible ones, such as become part of traditions reaching back to the earliest days of the country. You’ll also have the emotional and moral support of the entire military community during both the good times and the tough times.

Life as a military spouse comes with its challenges, but it also comes with a roster of benefits that make those challenge worthwhile.

How Can I Receive Military Spouse Benefits?

First of all, you need to be an actual spouse — which can only happen after you and your service member have legally tied the knot.

After that, you need to take several steps to launch your life as a military spouse:

  • Get a copy of your marriage certificate.
  • Learn your spouse’s Social Security Number by heart.
  • Register as a spouse through DEERS. This applies even if you are already registered with DEERS as a member of the military.
  • Visit the nearest office to receive an ID card for yourself and any eligible family members.
  • Visit the local Military and Family Support Center to sign up for new-spouse orientation.
  • Teach yourself about your service member’s leave and earnings by visiting the Department of Defense Military Compensation site.

What Military Benefits Are Available for Spouses?

Military benefits for spouses fall into two categories: those that confer automatically through the service member and those that a spouse seeks out. Here’s a break-down of both types:

Automatic Benefits

One of the biggest automatic benefits military spouses receive is health insurance. A service member’s spouse and dependents can enroll in TRICARE health insurance, which allows them to get free health care on base along with options for off-base care with co-pays and a deductible.

Another automatic benefit is housing assistance. This can come in the form of on-base housing or a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to defray the costs of off-base housing.

Military spouses and their families can enjoy discounted child care at their on-base Child Development Center (CDC) or hire an in-home certified Family Child Care (FCC) provider. Both providers meet federal standards for child care.

Access to on-base shopping at the commissary, exchange, and gas station are part of the package of benefits that military spouses enjoy through their service member after they register for their ID care through DEERS.

The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act lets military spouses claim their service member’s home state as their own for tax purposes, reducing the time and expense required to file taxes each year.

Unemployment compensation is available from most states when a military spouse loses their job as part of relocating to join their service member during a permanent change of station.

Optional Benefits

My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) scholarships provide military spouses up to $4,000 to pursue licensing, certification or an associate’s degree to help boost their career prospects.

The Military Spouse Preference (MSP) Program gives military spouses preferential status for civilian job openings at Department of Defense installations.

Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs provide military spouses with on-base entertainment, health and fitness, youth centers, golf courses and other programs, all operated by skilled professionals.

Discounts are available for military spouses and their families at a variety of venues, from national parks to federally owned recreations areas and hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys and more.

Marriage and family counseling services are offered free to service members and their spouses at on-base Family Support and Readiness Centers.

Spouses can also take advantage of free legal assistance provided by the Department of Defense to help with a wide range of issues, from leases to estate planning to adoption.

Insurance for Military Spouses

The Department of Defense provides a variety of military insurance benefits from health to life and beyond. This list includes:’

  • Health insurance: Spouses of active-duty service members quality for health coverage under the Department of Defense’s TRICARE insurance program. TRICARE covers health care, mental health care, prescriptions, vision and dental services. Deductibles and co-pays apply depending on the plan.
  • Life Insurance: The Family Service member’s group life insurance plan provides military spouses with up to $100,000 in life insurance. Premiums run as low as 45 cents per $10,000 of coverage. One stipulation: the spouse can’t carry more coverage than their service member. Children can be covered for free up to $10,000.

Education Benefits for Military Spouses

Military spouses enjoy a wide variety of options for advancing their education and their careers while their service member is on active duty. Education benefits for military spouses include:

  • Scholarships and loans covering up to 100% of tuition at four-year colleges as well as other schools and training institutions.
  • Military spouses can also receive the GI Bill benefits transferred from their service member to fund educational opportunities.
  • The Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) provides military spouses with up to $4,000 of financial aid toward earning a degree, professional license or career-related certification. The program is open to spouses of active-duty service members in pay grades E-1 through E-5, W-1 through W-2 and O-1 through O-2.

Employment Benefits for Military Spouses

Spouses of active-duty service members who are looking for work can take advantage of the Military Spouse Preference Program when applying for civilian positions within the Department of Defense.

For spouses who must leave their job as part of a change of post, 46 states allow spouses to file for unemployment benefits as part of the move. The four states that do not are Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota and Ohio.

Military Discounts For Spouses

From restaurants to shopping and movie tickets, service members and their spouses are eligible for a variety of military discounts from both national restaurant chains such as Chick-Fil-A and Outback Steakhouse to local providers. You’ll need to show military ID to qualify.

Discounts can range from 10% to 30% and may apply to just the service member’s meal or could cover an entire family. You’ll need to ask to determine how the discount works.

Service members and their spouses also qualify for discounts on travel.

Most major U.S. airlines offer discounts on air fare, free checked luggage, lounge access and even free pet transport.

Car rental companies can give service members and their spouses up to 25% off along with free insurance.

Amtrak offers a 10% discount for active-duty service members and their families, including on the Auto Train, which runs from the Washington, D.C., area to Orlando.

Cruise lines offer a variety of discounts for service members and their spouses, from lower fares to special benefits once you’re on board. For spouses whose service members are deployed, Royal Caribbean offers special stateroom pricing.

Many hotels, motels, campgrounds and other lodging providers give discounts for military personnel and their families. Discounts can run as high as 35%.

Recreational Benefits

Military spouses can take advantage of a wide variety of recreational opportunities, both on base and off.

On base, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program offers:

  • Fitness classes
  • Recreational sports teams
  • Golf
  • Outdoor equipment rental

Beyond the base, a free America the Beautiful pass gives service members and their families access to:

  • National Park Service sites
  • S. Fish & Wildlife Service locations
  • Bureau of Land Management properties
  • Bureau of Reclamation properties
  • S. Army Corps of Engineers sites

Along with these, many gyms and health clubs, including the YMCA, Gold’s Gym, and Anytime Fitness offer discounts on membership for military members and their spouses. Spouses can also get discounts on workout gear when they shop at Under Armour, Champs, and Kohl’s.

Blue Star Museums offer a variety of free cultural experience for service members and their spouses and families.

Military Spouse Tax Benefits

The Military Spouse Residency Relief Act lets the spouses of service members declare the same home state as their service member for tax purposes. That has simplified the process of filing taxes. Before the MSRRA, spouses were considered residents of the state where the family was stationed, not the state they considered home.

Under the MSRRA, couples can now file their taxes together in their home state as long as they have relocated under the service member’s orders. As of 2019, changes to the MSRRA let spouses file taxes using their service member’s residency even if they did not share that residency beforehand. (If they marry in the state where the service member is stationed, for example.)

It’s important to note that the MSRRA does not necessarily change a couple’s filing status — they may still have to file as “married, filing separately” as they did before MSRRA.

In the event a service member is deployed abroad from the state where they are stationed, the MSRRA allows their spouse to keep the home-state residency established before they relocated under orders.

Many states exempt service members from paying taxes on income earned while they are stationed out of state. The same rules may not apply to spouses benefiting from the MSRRA, however. In that case, spouses will have to file and pay taxes to the state where you as a couple have declared home-state residency while stationed elsewhere – if their designated home state has state income taxes. Nine states — Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming — have no state income taxes.

To guarantee state taxes are withheld correctly, service members should file DD Form 2058 State of Legal Residence Certificate with the military.

Personal property, such as automobiles, that spouses own either alone or jointly with their service member are also covered under MSRRA. The personal property needs to be tied to your designated home state and taxed there rather than in the state where the service member is stationed.

Legal Assistance for Military Spouses

Legal issues can arise at any time, from some as simple as an apartment lease to far more complex issues such as divorce. When service members and their spouses need legal aid, the Armed Forces can help through each military branch’s Legal Assistance Office.

Legal Assistance Office staff provide advice — they don’t represent spouses or service members directly as clients in legal proceedings. The offices can, however, help spouses and service members find legal representation in the state in which the proceeding takes place.

Legal help ranges from reviewing leases to estate planning and more. Divorce and child custody remains a key feature of legal assistance across the board.

While legal assistance offices can offer advice, they cannot represent spouses or service members as clients in divorce or other proceedings.

Legal Assistance Offices offer service members and spouses help with drawing up contracts for separation ahead of a divorce. Each military branch sets its own standards for separation contracts.

Benefits When Your Spouse is  Deployed

Deployments are part of every military spouse’s experience. Fortunately, all the benefits described so far remain in place while service members are deployed.

In fact, a wide range of other spousal benefits, including counseling, financial assistance and more kick in once a service member has been deployed. Those benefits include:

  • Airport arrival/departure
  • Air travel assistance
  • Care packages
  • Help with children and teens
  • Financial help
  • Lawn Care
  • Snow removal
  • Welcome home banners

The USO also provides activities to help spouses of deployed service members stay connected both with their service member and with the broader community of spouses.

Benefits for Veterans’ Spouses

After a service member has retired from active duty, they and their spouse continue to enjoy benefits under the service member’s new status as a veteran. Spouses are entitled to most of the same benefits their veteran service member enjoys, from educational assistance to burial benefits.

The list of benefits includes:

  • Monthly disability benefits to surviving spouses, parents, and dependent children
  • Educational benefits such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship
  • Career counseling and skills training to change or improve job options
  • Veteran health benefits through TRICARE or other programs
  • Housing assistance in the form of loans, refinancing or interest-rate reductions
  • Individual life insurance plans, financial planning and will preparation services.

Benefits for Spouses of Deceased Service members

In the unfortunate event that a service member dies, the Armed Forces offer their spouse and dependents a variety of benefits, including a survivor’s pension and a transfer of many benefits to the survivors.

The military’s Online Survivor Benefit Report will explain in detail the benefits spouses are entitled do upon the death of their service member.

Some of those include:

  • The Dependents Education Assistance (DEA) Program helps the spouse and college-age children of service members who have died or been permanently disabled due to a service-related event. Payments go directly to the student for tuition assistance with degree, certificate, vocational education or on-the-job-training and work-study programs.
  • The Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry Scholarship is available to military spouses and children of active-duty service members who died in the line of duty after Sept. 10, 2001. The scholarship provides up to $1,000 for books and supplies and provides a monthly stipend for living expenses for up to 36 months.
  • Social Security benefits accrued by the service member, paid as lump-sum and monthly payments.
  • Tax-free Dependency and Indemnity Compensation paid to eligible survivors of military service members who died in the line of duty or eligible survivors of veterans whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease.

About The Author

Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson focuses on writing about debt solutions for consumers struggling to make ends meet. His background includes time as a columnist for newspapers in Washington D.C., Tampa and Sacramento, Calif., where he reported and commented on everything from city and state budgets to the marketing of local businesses and how the business of professional sports impacts a city. Along the way, he has racked up state and national awards for writing, editing and design. Tom’s blogging on the 2016 election won a pair of top honors from the Florida Press Club. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife of 40 years, college-age son, and Spencer, a yappy Shetland sheepdog.


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