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Do Merchant Marines Qualify For Veterans Benefits?

While Merchant Marines have been a vital asset to the United States military throughout every war fought, federally funded veterans benefits are only available for Merchant Marines under certain conditions. Due to legislation passed in 1988 with input from the Air Force Secretary, the only Merchant Marines eligible to receive veterans benefits served in specific groups during the World War II era.

There are many benefits available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), although not all programs are available for eligible Merchant Marines. Particular documents, such as a discharge certificate, may be required for Merchant Marines when applying for medical care benefits.

Who Are They Merchant Marines?

The merchant Marines are a group of civilians who operate and man vessels that transport vital supplies to the U.S. Navy ships to continue their services. These vessels can contain a wide range of supplies such as oil, dry cargo, food, and equipment. Each of the 393 Merchant Marine vessels is either privately funded or funded by a government agency.

Civilians can join the Merchant Marines by enrolling and completing schooling in one of the numerous maritime academies located all over the United States. The United States Maritime Service trains officers and crew members funded by the United States Maritime Administration under the Department of Transportation.

Despite Merchant Mariners often being classified as civilians, there are medals awarded to crew members who show the utmost devotion to their job and exceptional conduct during service. These medals for Merchant Marines are equivalent to receiving the Medal of Honor for military veterans.

Which Merchant Marines Are Eligible For Veterans Benefits?

As mentioned before, the only Merchant Marines eligible to receive full veterans benefits are those who served in limited groups during World Warr II. During World War II, it is estimated that 8,500 Merchant Marines were killed during their service while an additional 11,000 were wounded. Because of these extremely high numbers, only Merchant Marines served during this time are eligible for veterans benefits.

Eligible Groups For Full Veterans Benefits

All United States Merchant Marines who served on a blockship during Operation Mulberry are entitled to benefits.

American Merchant Marines who served during the conflict between December 7, 1941, to August 15, 1945, are eligible to receive benefits if they meet specific criteria. These marines must have been employed through the War Shipping Administration or the Offense of Defense Transportation and had to have received a Merchant Mariner’s Document/Certificate of Service. 

Civil servants employed through the U.S. Army Transport Service or the Naval Transportation Service are also eligible to receive veterans benefits as long as they have documented proof of satisfactory work as a crew member. 

The last group of Merchant Marines eligible to receive full veterans benefits served on a merchant or public vessel that participated in oceangoing services in domestic or foreign waters.

Burial Benefits & National Cemetery Interment Eligibility

For Merchant Marines to receive burial benefits and National Cemetery internment, they must meet specific criteria, much like receiving full veterans benefits. For Merchant Marines to receive these benefits, they must have served between August 16, 1945, and December 31, 1946, serving as a crew member. Service must be done on a vessel operated by the War Shipping Administration or the Office of Defense Transportation, including both agents.

While serving, the vessel must have been operated in waters other than inland waterways such as the Great Lakes, harbors, lakes, or other significant water bodies. It goes without saying that the vessel in question must be owned by, under contract to, or charted by the United States Government to serve the Armed Forces.

Merchant Marines must have received licensing or other likewise documentation clearly stating the service completed by the Merchant Marine. 

Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2017 (H.R.154)

The Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2017 was passed by Congress to allocate a one-time payment of $25,000 to eligible Merchant Mariners who were unable to receive veterans benefits eligibility for their times served.

For Merchant Marines to receive this one-time payment, they must have served between December 7, 1941, and December 31, 1946, on a suitable vessel. Suitable vessels are those operated by the War Shipping Administration or the Office of Defense Transportation. This vessel must have been operated in waters other than inland waters with documentation to prove the Merchant Marine as a crewmember. The Secretary accepts the DD-214 form as proof of qualified service.

All eligible Merchant Marines who served during World War II should apply for this one-time payment to compensate for being previously unable to qualify for veteran’s benefits. For more information, click here: Chapter 10 Special Groups of Veterans – Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs ( 


While not all Merchant Marines are eligible for veterans benefits programs offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, they may qualify. Benefits programs available for veterans include health care options, disability compensation, education opportunities, and even home loans.

The VA strives to provide veterans with the appropriate resources to live a healthy and happy life. For more information on the programs available for veterans along with detailed eligibility requirements, be sure to visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website. Applying for benefits can be done entirely online for added convenience. Trained professionals are readily available to assist veterans in the application process and answer any questions that arise. Additional resource:  Veterans’ Benefits: Eligibility of Merchant Mariners – If this article about veteran’s benefits was helpful, you might qualify for free wireless service through the federal Lifeline program. You can check your eligibility now by clicking here. Free Cell Phone Service With Government Program | StandUp Wireless

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