As you know, I think that financial education is super-important. That same belief can be extended to all military benefits, whether they are obviously financial or not. In my comments, emails, and internet surfing, I've noticed that sometimes people don't look for answers until after they've gotten themselves into an undesirable situation. It can be unavoidable - it is hard to be aware of the things that you don't know. However, there are a few easy ways to increase your knowledge and decrease the opportunity for you to suffer financial or other hardship because you "didn't know." The military offers so much, but sometimes effort and information are necessary to best utilize the things that are offered.
1. Read military benefits-oriented websites. In addition to hosting The Paycheck Chronicles, Military.com also covers every other imaginable aspect of military life. In addition to an amazing volume of new information every day, they put together the weekly Military Report that hits the highlights in one concise page. You can even get the Military Report and other Military.com information sent straight to your email box! Even before I started working for Military.com, my retired Marine grandfather would send me little tidbits from the site, and they were always helpful.
2. Find out how your base distributes information, and get plugged in. Email, Facebook, base newspapers, Family Readiness Groups, paper newsletters, whatever. Every source may not contribute valuable information with every contact, but altogether they will help you build a general understanding of the issues facing military folks.
3. Take a class, or a dozen, from your installation's family support center. Whether it is the Airman and Family Readiness Center, Army Community Services, the Fleet and Family Service Center or the Marine Corps Community Services, find out what they offer and take some classes. The employees are paid to be experts in helping you, and they have a huge number of resources available to them. Many classes are even offered online, if that works better for you.
4. Think about your needs, and seek out specific information. Hoping to be stationed overseas? Don't wait until those orders arrive to start learning about whether you can take your car, or if pets need to be quarantined, or if spouses can find employment. Planning to stay in the service until retirement? Learn how to calculate your retirement pay, make sure you understand how Tricare works for retirees, and keep tabs on your community so you aren't surprised by a downsizing before you are able to retire. Want to transfer your GI Bill to your kids? Check out the regulations, be sure you understand the required service obligations, and be sure to check and double-check the paperwork well in advance of leaving the service.
I can not guarantee that if you do these four things, you'll never find yourself stuck due to lack of knowledge. However, the chances of that happening will become slim, and they'll become even slimmer if you consistently apply yourself to the business of being educated about the military, its benefits, and how they impact your life. Think of it as a part-time job, because it is: the job of taking care of yourself and your family. It will be time well spent.