In May, we celebrate Military Appreciation Month, an observance dedicated to honoring and thanking the many men and women who have served the U.S. and have risked their lives fighting to protect our freedom. Benefits.gov serves millions of veterans each year, and this month, it is especially appropriate to spotlight some of the many resources available to our veterans.
Each May, we observe National Moving Month to recognize the influx of activity on the housing market. Americans normally look to the springtime to pick up their roots and find that the warmer weather creates an easier and more pleasant time to move and settle into a new community.
Whether you have a loved one who is suffering from a mental illness or you are personally dealing with one yourself, Benefits.gov wants to help. There are understandable challenges a family may face when dealing with mental illness, and it is important to provide support and to help navigate families to the resources they may need.
This April, Benefits.gov celebrates its 15th anniversary. In the last 15 years, the Benefits.gov Program has grown significantly, and we are proud to have reached a record of 1 million site visits in the month of January alone. Since 2002, Benefits.gov has served as the official benefits website for the U.S. Federal Government; as we look back over the last decade and a half, we are proud to continue providing you with critical benefit information from across our 17 Federal agency partners.
In this edition of the Benefits.gov Compass, we are pleased to share important topics, from Tax Day resources, military appreciation, tips on buying a new home, a continuation of our mental health series, and an early look at how to prepare for summer.
- Al Sloane & Myung Moon, Benefits.gov Program Directors
With the beginning of spring upon us, we transition into a season of April showers, May flowers, and lots of cleaning. During this time, we are also reminded of another seasonal tradition in mid-April. On April 18, 2017 we observe Tax Day, the day that individual income tax returns are due to the U.S. Federal Government. While Tax Day is not always a fondly awaited occurrence, the law requires your taxes be reported accurately and on time. To assist with complex tax questions or benefits, Benefits.gov is committed to providing timely information for citizens in need of help.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury offers over 20 different programs to assist eligible citizens with paying their taxes. Some of these programs include the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which offers a tax credit that can help you pay for your education expenses paid for the first four years of education completed after high school. Another program highlighted is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), which is designed to offer tax assistance to people who are generally making $54,000 or less, living with a disability, elderly, or limited English speaking taxpayers. These programs, along with all other tax assistance programs from the U.S. Treasury, can be found on their agency page on Benefits.gov.
Occasionally, a tax assistance program will be offered by an agency other than Treasury. If this is the case, you can also browse the Benefits.gov site by category and find the “Tax Assistance” category. On this page, you can locate any of the tax assistance programs housed on Benefits.gov. For example, the Capital Construction Fund Program, offered by the U.S. Department of Commerce, enables fishermen to construct, reconstruct, or under limited circumstances, acquire fishing vessels with before-tax, rather than after-tax dollars.
For more resources and help with your taxes, we recommend visiting the Treasury’s tax page. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service’s website contains a number of useful resources for filing taxes, including the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” that details each and every taxpayer’s set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS.
In May, we celebrate Military Appreciation Month, an observance dedicated to honoring and thanking the many men and women who have served the U.S. and have risked their lives fighting to protect our freedom. Benefits.gov serves millions of veterans each year, and this month, it is especially appropriate to spotlight some of the many resources available to our veterans. The U.S. Federal Government offers numerous resources designed to specifically support eligible veterans in a wide range of areas.
The National Veterans’ Foundation keeps an extensive listing of resources on their 'Resources' page. These resources, many offered by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) through its Veterans’ Benefits Administration (VBA), can support a veteran with varying needs, from finding a career, a home, or even legal needs. VA also lists a wide range of veteran communities, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP).
Many of the benefits and resources available to veterans are provided through the VA’s eBenefits portal. These benefits cover a multitude of categories such as Health, Pension, Education, and much more. Through eBenefits, one can manage applications as well as existing benefits they are already receiving. It is also possible to make appointments for medical check-ups at a local VA provider. Through eBenefits, one can also access personnel files and medical records that have been shared with the VA. In addition to the eBenefits portal, the VA also maintains a long list of benefits at the National Resource Directory (NRD) that can support veterans and their families.
This Military Appreciation Month, make it a point to thank a veteran and show them how much you care; help them find the resources they may need. While there are a number of resources for our veterans provided by the VA, there are also a significant amount of resources provided by other Federal agencies. Benefits.gov provides a robust listing for a majority of these cross-agency programs, organized into specific categories on the site, including: Veterans Social Security, Veterans Loans, and Military: Active Duty and Veterans.
Each May, we observe National Moving Month to recognize the influx of activity on the housing market. Americans normally look to the springtime to pick up their roots and find that the warmer weather creates an easier and more pleasant time to move and settle into a new community. Finding the right home can often be a challenging decision, but navigating the varying benefits in buying versus renting, along with tax benefits and other housing benefits can add to the complexity. For this reason, Benefits.gov provides a list of housing programs offered by the government to address your housing questions and needs.
If you are looking to buy a home but aren’t sure where to start, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers a helpful list of steps to take throughout the home-buying process:
- Make a budget based on what you can realistically afford.
- Know your rights for borrowing and fair housing.
- Shop for a loan and learn about interest rates.
- Learn about home buying programs in your state or other specific programs.
- Shop for a home by starting with a helpful wish list.
- Make an offer on the home you love.
- Get a home inspection for your protection.
- Shop for homeowners insurance.
- Sign the papers after fully reading and preparing for the close.
If you are deciding between buying and renting a home, MyCreditUnion.gov offers advantages and considerations for both options. Benefits.gov also contains information on housing benefit programs including, Rural Rental Assistance, Rural Housing: Housing Repair Loans and Grants, and the Housing Choice Voucher Program. These housing programs can provide assistance to very low-income families in finding a safe and healthy living space.
Through appropriate planning, research, and exploration of resources available on Benefits.gov, we are confident that your buying and renting experience during National Moving Month will be an enjoyable one!
Whether you have a loved one who is suffering from a mental illness or you are personally dealing with one yourself, Benefits.gov wants to help. There are understandable challenges a family may face when dealing with mental illness, and it is important to provide support and to help navigate families to the resources they may need. In conjunction with National Mental Health Month observed in May, Benefits.gov wants to help keep you informed on the importance of being stigma free.
In our continuing series about mental health, we last shared an article about managing stress.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime, and the rest of Americans are already affected one way or another by family members, friends, others around them. It is important to take action to help others fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for equal care. By using these steps listed below, you can help with making society stigma free and also help a loved one simultaneously:
- Educate yourself: Educating yourself on the type of mental illnesses and symptoms of such illnesses is an important way to ensure you can identify the signs of a loved one in need and help ensure they get the proper help as soon as possible.
- Offer your support: When noticing the signs of a loved one in need, it is important to let that individual know that you are there for them and that they have your support during this tough time. Studies show, those suffering from mental health issues are more likely to seek help when friends or family are showing their support for them during their rough time. It is also important to be patient and understanding, while also offering your time and company to your loved one.
- Become an advocate: By doing the proper research on mental illness, you can be a voice for those with these conditions and help dispel stereotypes. You can also help to stop the continuation of stigmas about mental illness to those who do not know much about it. By becoming an advocate, you can help educate others on what it means to be stigma free and how to support those with mental illnesses.
Benefits.gov understands the enormous challenges faced by those with mental illness and their loved ones and realize how hard it is to seek help. There are many resources available that are free and online. For more information on health care benefits, counseling, mental health services, and more, take our Benefit Finder questionnaire to see which of the 1,200 benefits from over 20 different categories you may be eligible to receive.
School is nearly out, and every child or student is looking forward to the freedom that comes with summer. For high school or college students in particular, summer can be an invaluable time to have new experiences, build skills, or prepare for the future. In order to take full advantage of the time you have this summer, it is smart to plan early, whether it’s for family trips, overnight camps, college visits or internships!
To begin with, summer can be a great time to get a change of scenery and explore parks across town or across the country. Spend a day learning about local history or enjoy a few nights sleeping under the stars in a national park. To kick-start the planning for your trip, visit Recreation.gov to find tips and suggestions for U.S. destinations.
Put your summer weeks to work as you or your child build skills and gain valuable employment experiences for the future. With the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) run by the U.S. Department of Commerce, students are provided with an opportunity to earn money, continue their education, and train with Federal employees through real, hands-on experiences. You can also invest in your future by applying for admittance to Job Corps. Job Corps is the nation's largest career technical training and education program for low-income people ages 16 through 24. Job Corps enrolls approximately 50,000 young people each year at 126 centers in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
Don’t wait for school to start to begin college planning. Summer is a great time to visit college campuses and start working on applications. If you or someone you know might need a boost to prepare for or to thrive in college, consider the TRIO Upward Bound program, which helps to generate skills and motivation necessary for success in education beyond high school among low-income and potential first-generation college students and veterans.
Interested in traveling outside of the U.S.? Turn your next trip into a study abroad experience by applying for a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES Abroad) grant for the 2017-2018 timeframe. American high-school students on the YES Abroad program will spend one academic semester or year in countries across the globe! Another program to consider is the American Youth Leadership Program, a leadership training exchange program for U.S. high school students and adult mentors. Participants travel abroad to gain firsthand knowledge of foreign cultures and to examine globally significant issues, such as the environment and climate change, food security and nutrition, the role of the media, and science and technology.
Benefits.gov is here to provide the resources you need to make this a summer to remember! For more programs and benefits to explore before your summer adventures, browse our benefit categories to see if you are eligible.