How to Get the Most From the Military in Your Education

The U.S. military understands the important role that family plays in the life of our service members and it rewards those family members with a wide range of service and education benefits. The Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs want to honor the sacrifices they know you’ve already made.

As a spouse or dependent, the support you’ve provided to our soldiers means you’re eligible for a variety of VA school benefits and even some military tuition discount programs.

Let’s look at some of the best and most prominent services you can take advantage of, and let us be one of the first to say thank you for the support you’ve given and good luck on your future education and career.

Transferring Post-9/11 GI Military Tuition Assistance

The Post-9/11 GI Bill allows service members to transfer all or some unused benefits to their spouse or dependent children. The DoD is required to approve this transfer, but there are very few instances in which the transfer is not accepted. That would typically involve a problem with the program not meeting eligibility requirements and not an issue with the family members or service member.

Service members who are eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits can transfer all 36 months or any unused portion of their military tuition assistance in most circumstances, and your school partner can help you with filling out forms and making inquiries.

Benefits can be transferred to your spouse, any of your children, or any combination of children and/or spouse as long as the request doesn’t exceed the available hours left for the service member.

To get these military dependent education benefits, the family member must be enrolled in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS) and be eligible for benefits at the time of transfer. Note that benefits can also include a military discount online through some partners.

The criteria for the service member include:

  • At least six years of service in the armed forces as active duty or selected reserve on the date that they try to share the benefits. The service member must agree to four more years of service from this date.
  • The service member has at least 10 years of appropriate service and is precluded from committing to four more years (typically through a statute or through limits set by the branch or DoD), then they must agree to the maximum amount of time allowed by the limiting law.
  • The service member is retirement-eligible and agrees to serve an additional four years of service.
  • Transfer requests can also be approved if the service member is in the armed forces and special circumstances prevent him or her from using the GI Bill benefits at the current time.

Spouses and children also get their own list of criteria that must be met to ensure that benefits can be transferred.

For spousal transfers, the military dependent education benefits rules and options include:

  • Benefits can be used immediately upon approval.
  • Benefits can be used while the service member is in the armed forces or after their separation from active duty as long as they meet the criteria above or have other special provisions.
  • Will not receive a housing benefit in addition to the education benefit while the member is on active duty. However, if your school of choice is located on or near a military base outside of the U.S., your school may offer a scholarship to make up for this loss.
  • Can use the benefit for up to 15 years after the service member was separated from active duty.

The considerations and rules for children VA Education benefits include:

  • Benefits can be used once the service member has completed a total of 10 years in the service.
  • Benefits can be used when the above criteria is met, even if the service member remains on active duty.
  • May not be used until you have received a high school diploma or equivalent; or once you’ve reached the age of 18.
  • May not be used after the age of 26.
  • You will receive a housing allowance stipend if the service member is on active duty.

These can be a little confusing, so your best option is to contact your school of choice or reach out to the specific branch services for educational benefits. The VA has a list of them and other information on its contact sheet.

These are some of the most popular options from the DoD, but there are also a variety of VA Education benefits for you to consider.

Some Special Notes

For the GI Bill benefits and others provided using the DEERS platform, there are a couple of considerations that are worth noting for spouses and children.

If your parent is the service member transferring a benefit to you, their divorce from your other parent or their marriage to a nonrelated adult does not preclude you from benefits. Grants and scholarships for military dependents are protected fiercely by the DoD because they don’t want service to have a negative impact on children.

Also, a subsequent divorce does not necessarily strip you of your rights to the military dependent education benefits if your former spouse still wishes you to have the transfer credits. However, the transfer can be changed or revoked at any time. Typically, the military system will not allow changes to happen in the middle of a semester or in the middle of some small-term programs.

This causes a lot of concern, but you can get some great help by choosing a school that has extensive knowledge of the military benefits available. Schools like Vista Military can walk you through the benefits, qualifications, and protections to help you get the most out of your education.

Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts

If you’ve heard military spouses talk about the Spouse Tuition Assistance program, what they’re actually talking about is the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts, also called MyCAA.

This program provides military spouses up to $4,000 in financial assistance and military tuition assistance to further their education and it comes directly from the Department of Defense. Be aware that the DoD updates and adjusts these amounts on a regular basis, so it’s best to speak with a school official or DoD representative to verify today’s amount. Thankfully, the DoD typically increases amounts and rarely decreases them.

Some of the benefit’s current eligibility requirements and information you need to know include:

  • The maximum financial benefit is $4,000 with a cap of $2,000 per fiscal year. Waivers for some spouses getting licensing or certain certification training will allow for the full $4,000 in a single year because of the short nature of the programs.
  • Spouses must finish their studies within three years of the start date of their first course.
  • Only applies to some associate degrees, certifications and licenses.
  • It’s typically available to spouses of active duty servicemembers who are in the pay grades of E1-E5, W1-W2 and O1-O2.
  • Spouses of Guard and Reserve members must be able to complete their courses while the service member is on Title 10 orders.

The MyCAA program does not provide grants for military spouses of Coast Guard members.

MyCAA is a good benefit to add in to your mix, but it has some very specific requirements and cost structures that mean you will need help from a great school partner. Schools can and should help you only apply it to what’s covered under the law.

Some restrictions put in place by MyCAA include:

  • It does not pay for program fees when you get a computer as part of the program.
  • Graduation and application fees are not paid.
  • MyCAA can’t be used to cover child care or transportation.
  • Medical services offered through a university to students can’t be paid for with the MyCAA funds.
  • Your MyCAA documentation must be approved before fees are due or you will have to pay out of pocket.
  • MyCAA doesn’t provide any type of reimbursement.

Applying for MyCAA

If you’re an eligible spouse for the MyCAA benefit, you’ll need to get a MyCAA account and the system will automatically verify your eligibility.

Be sure to create this account and apply for benefits at least 30 days before the course starts. You’ll need to contact the school to find out its information for the MyCAA program and then provide all of this to the DoD within your MyCAA account.

You can also search for your school within its own portal, but it’s recommended to call the school and verify this information when applying for the benefit. This is especially true for military spouse tuition assistance programs.

Once you’ve applied and worked with your school, the program will send you verification that you’re eligible. The school is required to notify you of this and when the payment has been made since MyCAA sends its funds directly to the school itself.

DoD Grants for Military Spouses and Dependents

The4 DoD also offers a variety of scholarships and grants for military spouses and their children when it comes to their active duty personnel. These range from military relief society scholarships to the Military Children programs operated with the Defense Commissary Agency.

Most grants for military spouses and children are for around $1,500 and are funded by donations and various local chapters of different veteran service organizations and clubs. The DoD’s education programs personnel are willing to assist you in locating the right military spouse tuition assistance options based on where you live.

Your best place to begin looking is the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) home page’s students and alumni sections. Some of these scholarships will only work with DoDEA schools, while others work with specific partners, or even a wide range of accredited universities and schools.

The National Military Family Association and The Military Child Education Coalition also offer programs that offer help with applications.

The NMFA offers a wide range of scholarships each year, with enrollment typically beginning in December and running through the spring months. These scholarships are targeted to military spouses and can be used for a variety of different courses, degrees and training programs.

What’s great about the NMFA is that they also run a lot of other scholarship awards and promotions tied to their other services. This means a rather continuous supply of military dependent education benefits and awards are available so you can start getting your education at any time.

In September 2014, the group gave away two scholarships to users of its smartphone app who were currently enrolled in class. These scholarships had little restriction on what was available and what the money could be used for, because the group said that all costs typically relate to your schooling once you’re enrolled.

Scholarships for Children of Veterans

For scholarships for children of veterans, one of your best resources is the Military Child Education Coalition because it does a great job of getting all the right resources together for you in a single place. The service’s scholarships page provides you with a list of many different available scholarships as well as gives you the ability to apply right there.

It is best to read through all of the available options for a military discount online because requirements and opportunities have a lot of special considerations or needs, from scholarships for boarding schools to special scholarships just for those entering the current military academies.

The Scholarships for Military Children Program, administered by the Fisher House Foundation, will even give children and their parents the scholarship money to attend schools and universities near military medical centers at home or abroad for families whose service member is undergoing a health issue or crisis.

What’s really cool is that not all of the scholarships are purely for your education in a standard classroom. Children of active duty military officers and veterans can even apply for programs like the Bernard Curtis Brown II Space Camp Scholarship that offers chance to see what it is like in space.

Survivors' and Dependents' VA Education Benefits

The VA provides a series of spousal educational assistance and scholarships for military dependents, though these are typically limited to family of service members who have died, been disabled or gone missing from the service.

There are three options to qualify for the VA Education benefits assistance programs:

  1. You are a spouse or child of a service member or veteran who has a permanent service-related disability or who died as a result of a service-related disability;
  2. You are a spouse or child of a service member or veteran who has been listed as Missing in Action for more than 90 days or has been captured and detained by a hostile force or government for the same time period;
  3. You are a spouse or child of a service member or veteran who is hospitalized or receives care for a disability classified as “totally and permanently disabling” that is related to the service. Typically this disability must have led to a discharge from military service.

If you meet these criteria, you must contact the VA to apply for benefits within a certain length of time. Spouses must seek assistance within 10 years of the date they become eligible for the benefit or 10 years after the death of the veteran. Children of the veteran or service member must claim the educational benefit when they are between the ages of 18 and 26. The VA will typically grant extensions to older children who have not yet reached these ages but are close when the service member or veteran dies or becomes disabled.

The most recent data from the VA says that the department will provide $987 a month for full-time school attendance, with smaller amounts for part-time students. These benefits are also paid for full-time training in a career field for up to 45 months or up to an equivalent if the training is only part time. This can also be used as a military discount online for some virtual classes and degrees.

The VA provides benefits for a wide range of associate, bachelor or graduate degrees at colleges and universities, as well as funds for technical and vocational schools or on-the-job training and apprenticeships. It’s best to check out the VA’s website for a full list of schooling or contact your local office to discuss benefits with a staff member.

Don’t forget to ask about all of your options no matter what your situation is. The VA has some programs that provide students as young as 14 with benefits if they suffer from mental or physical disabilities that require special schooling or training assistance.

School-Specific Scholarships for Children of Veterans

Another tool that will really help you understand and identify all of your benefits is picking a school to attend that is military-friendly. This means you’ll get the right information on scholarships for children of veterans as well as spousal assistance.

These institutions, such as Vista Military, may support different military tuition discount programs and scholarships for military dependents. Military-friendly schools often employ counselors who specialize in military spouse tuition assistance and other VA school benefits. This means you’ll understand exactly what can be applied when you’re looking at survivor, GI Bill, MyCAA and even specific vocational services.

Even if you’re not ready to enroll, it’s a good idea to talk to our advisors about what you may be eligible for in the future so you can start applying for military assistance today.

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