Life insurance for veterans

Veterans’ Group Life Insurance is best for veterans who may not qualify for private life insurance. Term life is the best life insurance for veterans who need more coverage or lower rates.

Rebecca Shoenthal author photoAmanda Shih author photo

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Rebecca Shoenthal

Rebecca Shoenthal

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Rebecca Shoenthal is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius. Her insights about life insurance and finance have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, The Balance, HerMoney, SBLI, and John Hancock.

 & Amanda Shih

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is an editor and a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert at Policygenius, where she writes about life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

Updated February 8, 2022 | 5 min read

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Many active-duty military personnel already have a life insurance policy, and when they leave the armed forces they have a few different options for continuing coverage. Most commonly, veterans can convert their Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) policy into a Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) policy; buy life insurance from a private insurer; or convert their SGLI or VGLI policy into private life insurance.

VGLI offers guaranteed approval up to 240 days after you leave active duty, but it comes with limitations. For example, the maximum VGLI death benefit is $400,000. Private term life insurance offers benefits up to several million dollars and competitive pricing, but isn’t always available or affordable for veterans with complex medical conditions. A Policygenius agent can help you choose the best life insurance for your circumstances.

Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers group life insurance for veterans.

  • You need to convert your Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance to Veterans’ Group Life Insurance within 485 days to keep the same coverage.

  • VGLI premiums go up as you get older.

  • VGLI is a good option for veterans who need guaranteed approval, but others may pay less for private life insurance.

Life insurance options for veterans 

Veterans have four main life insurance options after leaving active duty.

  1. Let SGLI expire and buy private life insurance If you want to purchase a policy from a private insurer, start the application process early. This option is best for veterans without severe health conditions who will qualify for a cheaper civilian policy.

  2. Convert SGLI to VGLI If you want to keep your military-provided life insurance benefits, you’ll need to convert to VGLI within 485 days of leaving active duty. Compare your premium with quotes for private life insurance to ensure you’re getting the best rates.

  3. Convert SGLI to private life insurance With specific providers, you can convert your SGLI into a civilian policy within 120 days of leaving active duty without taking a medical exam. This is worth considering for veterans with health concerns who know they want private insurance.

  4. Convert SGLI to VGLI, then convert VGLI into private coverage Specific providers allow you to convert VGLI into a civilian policy at any time without a health screening. This gives you more time to compare quotes for private insurance to ensure you’re getting the best rates.

The best option for you depends on your specific health history and financial needs. Veterans with complex medical conditions who need a small amount of coverage may benefit from staying on VGLI. Others may find a civilian policy better fits their needs and budget.

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Military-provided veterans' group life insurance (VGLI)

All military service members are automatically enrolled in SGLI, a group life insurance plan, which can be converted into VGLI up to one year and four months after you leave active duty. [1]

You’ll have to continue paying premiums as you transition from SGLI to VGLI to keep the coverage in force.

One of the benefits of converting SGLI to VGLI is that you retain the ability to receive up to 50% of your life insurance proceeds early if you have a life expectancy of nine months or fewer. (This is similar to the accelerated death benefit included in many life insurance policies.)

However, you won’t be able to get more than $400,000 in coverage and premiums don’t stay level — they increase as you get older.

When to convert SGLI into VGLI

Your SGLI coverage only stays active for 120 days after you leave active duty, so start the conversion process as soon as possible to avoid a coverage gap. Converting your policy in the first 240 days also means you can skip the medical exam usually included in the underwriting process

You can still get VGLI between days 240 and 485, but you will need to take a medical exam and pay more if you have health issues. Veterans with pre-existing conditions should consider converting to VGLI within 240 days so they have life insurance coverage while comparing civilian policy options.

You can convert VGLI into a civilian policy with participating insurers at any time, [2] which gives you ample time to compare policies. Apply for a conversion via paper application or on the VA’s website.

When to convert SGLI into private life insurance

Some insurance companies partner with the military to offer civilian life insurance policies to veterans. Service members with SGLI have 120 days from the day they leave active duty to convert their policy to a private life insurance policy with a participating provider. 

These providers don’t require a medical exam to convert your policy, so you’ll be approved for the same amount of SGLI coverage you had at a predetermined rate. If you know you want a private insurance policy but have health concerns that will raise your rates, this is worth considering. However, you have a shorter window to compare quotes for your new policy than veterans with VGLI. 

How much does life insurance for veterans cost?

VGLI is a permanent life insurance policy — it never expires as long as you pay premiums. The premiums increase over time and are based on your coverage amount and age. These are the VGLI premiums by age for the max coverage amount ($400,000):

AgeMonthly premium
29 and under$28
30 to 34$36
35 to 39$48
40 to 44$64
45 to 49$84
50 to 54$132
55 to 59$240
60 to 64$396
65 to 69$588
70 to 74$904
75 and older$1,712

Rates as provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Rate illustration valid as of 2/08/2022.

Life insurance for veterans with PTSD

The number of veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) varies by service era. The VA estimates that between 11% to 20% of veterans who served most recently in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF) have PTSD in a given year. [3]

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, it may be difficult for you to purchase a private life insurance policy at an affordable rate, especially if the diagnosis is new or if PTSD keeps you from working.

You can usually get life insurance if you have PTSD, but your rates will be higher if your diagnosis is more severe or harder to manage. The life insurance company will want to see a long history (generally over 12 months) of successful treatment with medication and therapy and evidence that you can work. 

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When to choose VGLI over private life insurance for veterans

There are certain instances when it makes sense to get VGLI instead of private coverage. The biggest reason why someone might choose VGLI is if you have medical conditions that make it hard to qualify for traditional life insurance. This isn’t just limited to PTSD, but other disabilities and medical conditions as well, including those you might have gotten from combat. Mental health conditions, neurological conditions, and heart conditions can all affect your ability to get insured. 

If you are 60 years or older and applying for life insurance, you’ll find that a private life policy is very expensive. Even VGLI premiums can get very costly the older you are. But, if you are an older individual looking for lower coverage amounts to cover final expenses, VGLI rates might be more affordable.

Every veteran has a unique health history and life insurance needs, and the best provider for one person may not be the best for another. Others may be better off staying on a VGLI policy. You can find the right life insurance policy by working with an independent broker like Policygenius. 

Frequently asked questions

Do veterans get free life insurance?

The VA supplements some costs associated with life insurance policies for veterans, but only veterans with qualifying disabilities are eligible for free coverage.

Is there life insurance for retired military members?

Yes, veterans can get group life insurance through the Department of Veterans Affairs called Veterans’ Group Life Insurance. Veterans can also buy private life insurance or convert their group insurance into private insurance.

What’s the difference between SGLI and VGLI?

SGLI (Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance) is a policy you have while you serve and VGLI (Veterans’ Group Life Insurance) is a policy you can have after you retire from active duty.