Everything about California is big — its population, 39 million people; its economy, the fifth largest in the world; number of visitors, more than 65 million annually; size of the civilian workforce, 19 million people. The number of Veterans residing in the Golden State is also large, at nearly 1.6 million. And you have benefits you can use right now. Take advantage of these California-specific programs and live life to the fullest after your military service:
1. Connect with a California County Veteran Service Office (CVSO) representative and Local Interagency Network Coordinator (LINC). If you haven’t done so already, meet with your county benefit representative and regional LINC. CVSO offices are represented by staff certified to counsel you in applying for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits — for free. Work together to apply for VA compensation and pensions, the GI Bill, health care, home loans and more.
In addition, the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) has eight LINC regions. According to the state’s 2019 benefits booklet, they “bridge the gap between CalVet and the federal, state, county, and non-government agencies that provide services to our state’s 1.6 million veterans.” They supplement and support CVSOs and regional service providers to assist you in accessing federal and state services, the state says (see below).
2. Get state assistance to enroll in VA health care. If you’re enrolled in Medi-Cal, the CalVet Veterans Benefit Enhancement Program can help you transition to more generous VA health care, including specialized care, nationwide coverage and mailed prescriptions.
Learn more: https://rly.pt/3jkAClW.
3. Look into the CalVet Home Loans program. You may know about the VA home loan guarantee (https://rly.pt/2GTP467). But California also offers no down payment loan products for nearly any honorably discharged veteran interested in buying a home in the state. (National Guard or reservists ordered to active duty are also eligible.) CalVet Home Loans are available to you even if you entered service from outside the state, as long as you meet the following eligibility rules:
• Served on active duty for at least 90 days (during wartime or peacetime).
• Served under honorable conditions.
According to the program website, fixed-rate, non-mobile home loan rates range from 2.99% to 3.2%, but there may be fees and implications to your VA benefits, and so study the details carefully.
In addition, if you’re a Veteran with a lower income and less than stellar credit history, explore the CalVet Residential Enriched Neighborhood (REN) program. This could provide you with access to a home loan not based on a FICO score if you agree to provide sweat equity toward building your home and complete free training.
4. Get an exemption from property taxes. If you are a Veteran residing in California, look into lowering or eliminating your tax burden through two programs:
• Veterans’ exemption. In theory, you could receive an exemption of $4,000 in real or personal property tax, but the state says most nondisabled veterans or surviving spouses in this category do not qualify because of the program’s rules, which are in the state’s constitution.
• Disabled Veterans’ exemption. Here there are two levels of exemption if you are a resident Veteran with a service-connected disability rating of 100% disabled or are being compensated at the 100% rate due to unemployability:
Basic: The $100,000 basic exemption is available to all qualifying claimants and is compounded by an inflation factor.
Low income: This exemption is available to qualifying claimants whose annual household income does not exceed a specified income limit. In 2018, the exemption amount was $202,060 for an annual household income limit of $60,490.
Learn more: Look into your eligibility for these programs and at other related benefits such as license and fee waivers, itinerant vender permit waivers and more at https://rly.pt/3kZJ22D.
5. Start a business. After the military, you may choose a career in health care, high tech, the service industry or something else (https://rly.pt/3ji5GD0). Or you can become an entrepreneur. Here are a few resources to get your Veteran-owned business off the ground in the Golden State:
• Consult with one of California’s Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). This is a nationwide business assistance network partly funded by Congress through a partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The network (https://rly.pt/33Ldx5F) gives you access to free and at-cost training to start, grow and expand your small business. California’s SBDC Network State Office (https://rly.pt/2HGqiXz) oversees an in-state network of 35 SBDC centers, which are staffed by experienced business consultants. The network provides general and Veteran-specific guidance in best practices for small businesses, business plan development, start-up and financing advice, and more.
• Learn about the Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise Program. If you are a disabled Veteran in the state, this program could help you compete more effectively for California small business assistance. Details are at https://rly.pt/3cQCvED.
• Locate other trainings. Also check out SBA’s Boots to Business training offerings for transitioning service members, Veterans and military spouses at https://rly.pt/2ZBUTvp. In addition, find local, no-cost business advisers at https://rly.pt/2E3xICV, https://rly.pt/33A6Xi0and https://rly.pt/3hy2eTc.
• Get verified as Veteran-owned. Once your Veteran business is set up, get help getting verified from VA’s Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization (https://rly.pt/3kheSZ6) and start doing business directly with VA, the second largest federal agency.
More resources for California Veterans
• Download the California Veterans Resource Book for information about additional benefits, including discounts at state parks and for hunting and fishing licenses, at https://rly.pt/3jcnX4B.
• Create your myCalVet account at https://rly.pt/3n6ja7e.
• Search the CalVet website at https://rly.pt/3ieZn1F.