The government and private institutions offer a wide range of scholarships and financial aid packages to family members of veterans. These benefits are provided as a way to further education and thank veterans and their families for their service. One of the most popular options includes the Post-911 GI Bill®¹ from the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Department, but there are many other packages available as veterans education benefits for dependents.
Understanding and locating your benefit options can be difficult, but there are many services and companies available to assist you. Examining a few common and easily accessible programs offered to the spouses and children of servicemembers helps make the process of obtaining benefits easier. It also helps to know that you have other options for locating additional packages and offerings.
It’s important to monitor eligibility requirements. Whether it’s for you, your veteran family member or the educational institution or training program itself, your knowledge of the requirements should always be current. You must meet a different set of criteria for each scholarship. Therefore, it’s wise to find an education partner who is willing to work with you to secure benefits, complete necessary paperwork and find new scholarships that the VA or DoD may not sponsor.
Post-9/11 GI Bill®
Perhaps the best known program for educational benefits for dependents of veterans – and veterans themselves – is the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This program provides up to four years (often listed as 36 months) of education benefits that are typically payable for 15 years after you are released from active duty.
As of August 2014, the current pay and benefit schedule is as follows:
Public schools: All tuition and fees will be paid for in-state students.
Private or foreign schools: Up to the national maximum will be paid each academic year, currently at $20,235.02.
Vocational flight schools: Classes and fees up to $11,562.86 will be paid per academic year.
National testing programs for licenses and certificates: Reimbursement is available up to $2,000 per test.
Monthly housing allowance: Allowance is awarded on a per-case basis and is typically equal to current military Basic Allowance for Housing as an E-5 with dependents. This will be adjusted based on the ZIP code of the school.
Books: You will receive a stipend of up to $1,000 each year for books and supplies.
Rural schools: Veterans relocating to highly rural areas may receive a one-time payment of $500.
If you’re not interested in using these benefits for yourself, you can transfer them to your spouse or dependent children, which will ease their educational burden.
Transferring the Post-9/11 GI Bill
Servicemembers can transfer all or some of their unused benefits to a spouse or dependents, according to DoD regulations. The red tape extends to the VA as well, because once DoD approves your request, your designated beneficiary will need to complete forms with the VA. However, both departments have worked with many servicemembers and their families, so securing educational benefits for dependents has become straightforward.
The transfer program will allow you to give all 36 months (or whatever amount of unused months you have remaining) to your spouse, one or more children or any combination of your spouse and children. The new GI Bill is among the most prevalent education benefits for veteran spouses.
Family members must be enrolled in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System, or DEERS, at the time of the transfer request for it to process. It’s important to make sure the servicemember also meets the transfer requirements.
Education benefits for military spouses and dependents come with some usage limitations, so it’s important to discuss these with a VA, DoD or school representative. Some of the most important rules are as follows:
- Spouses can use benefits at any time while the servicemember is in the Armed Forces or has been separated from active duty.
- Spouses can access benefits anytime before 15 years after the last separation.
- Children can use the benefits only after the servicemember has completed 10 years in the Armed Forces.
- Children must be at least 18 or have completed high school (some equivalent GED degrees may count).
- Children must use the benefit before age 26.
To better understand the rules and eligibility requirements of your GI Bill and veterans education benefits for dependents, it’s recommended to contact someone with your branch or school that specializes in working with veterans.
Yellow Ribbon Program
While the Post-9/11 GI Bill will help military veterans pay resident tuition and fees for public schools – and sometimes lower the cost of tuition and fees for private schools – there are some costs that aren’t always covered.
To combat these fees, the VA has worked with schools to launch the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Universities and colleges that operate with the Yellow Ribbon Program elect to make more funds available to veterans and beneficiaries using the Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay for these fees. Importantly, the program does not cause any additional charge or change to your current GI Bill entitlement. The program is a voluntary service provided by the VA and these institutions. The VA matches the funds schools offer and directly compensates the school.
It’s important to note that the school must participate in the program and be listed on the VA’s coverage map for you to receive benefits from this program.
Education benefits for military spouses and dependents in the Yellow Ribbon Program will follow the rules for your Post-9/11 GI Bill. This means you must be considered eligible for the Transfer of Entitlement under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
MyCAA Education Benefits for Military Spouses
The Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program from the Defense Department provides as much as $4,000 in financial assistance for a military spouse who is pursuing a degree, license or credential relevant to certain career fields. The benefit is capped at $2,000 each year but will pay for two years.
The benefit applies to “Portable Career Fields and Occupations” designated by the DoD and covers everything from animal services and auto repair to IT, legal careers and education.
A great benefit of this program is that it provides spouses with counselors to develop a plan of action for financial aid. This ensures that programs meet eligibility requirements for MyCAA and other veterans education benefits for spouses. The programs offers guidance for balancing work and school, help with planning to enter the workforce, and assistance with resumes and interview preparation.
There are some specific eligibility requirements that you should review before applying for MyCAA, which include the following:
- Spouses must be married to a servicemember on active duty in pay grades of E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2 and O-1 to O-2.
- Coursework must be completed while the military spouse is on Title 10 orders, which will cover some reservists.
- The military spouse cannot rise above any of the E, W or O pay grades.
- The spouse seeking benefits cannot be on Title 10 orders themselves.
- The military member cannot be a member of the Coast Guard.
- Spouses must not be legally separated, even if they are still married.
There are many restrictions to what can and cannot be paid for, so it’s best to establish an account through the MyCAA Spouse Portal and start your process there. MyCAA can confirm your current DEERS status and help locate appropriate school and training partners.
Survivor’s and Dependent’s Education Assistance
The Survivor's and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) program from the Department of Veterans Affairs provides educational benefits and training help for dependents of some veterans. This program covers the dependents of veterans who are totally and permanently disabled due to a service-related injury or condition, or for veterans who died while on active duty.
This program can last as long as 45 months depending on the veteran and his or her dependent’s status. According to the VA, some DEA beneficiaries can obtain coverage and eligibility for 81 months when combining this program with the GI Bill and other VA programs. These education benefits for veteran spouses may have differing requirements about when they can be used in concert, however.
The DEA program helps obtain degrees, complete certificate programs, get an apprenticeship or receive on-the-job training. These options are available for dependents, but spouses can also use the funds for a correspondence course. The benefit pays out directly to the student and caps out at $1,018 per month. For surviving spouses, the benefit may be used at any time up to 20 years from the servicemember’s date of death or his or her rating as totally disabled.
Eligibility requirements for DEA benefits state that the applicant must be a spouse, daughter or son of a veteran or servicemember who:
- Died or is presumed dead while completing active duty.
- Is forcibly detained or interned during active duty by a foreign government or power.
- Is lost in action or captured in the line of duty.
- Died or is totally and permanently disabled as a result of a service injury. Disabilities must be a consequence of active duty in the Armed Forces.
- Died as a result of the service disability or complications of a service disability that was permanent and absolute.
- Is receiving outpatient care or has been hospitalized for a service-connected debility and will probably be discharged because of this permanent and absolute disability.
What you’ll be paid ultimately depends on what kind of program you’re in, and the VA provides a list of current benefit rates. The most-used benefits are often the institutional training, which breaks down as follows:
- Full time students receive $1,018.00 monthly.
- Students considered ¾ time (relative to a work week) receive $763.00 each month.
- Students considered ½ time get a monthly assistance of $506.00.
- Students rated as less than ½ time and more than ¼ time, you can receive $506.00 each month, but it can only be used to pay tuition and fees.
- The same tuition and fee restrictions apply to students rated at ¼ time or less. They can receive up to $254.50 each month.
Fry Scholarship Educational Benefits for Dependents
For the children and spouses of servicemen who died while completing active duty after September 10, 2001, The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship, or Fry Scholarship, is an assistance option. While this was initially only for children, the scholarship was made available to spouses on January 1, 2015. As education benefits for veteran spouses, the Fry Scholarship may have a longer acceptance and distribution time than some others.
The Fry Scholarship will provide benefits for 36 months and is paid out at levels of the full Post-9/11 GI Bill, covering tuition, fees, housing allowances, books and supply stipends. Like other GI Bill programs, you’ll have to use these with a program or school that is approved by the VA. You’ll also need to file an application with both the school and your regional VA office.
Benefits can be used before 15 years after the death of the servicemember have lapsed and can be combined with DEA, DIC and other veterans education benefits for dependents. The program will work with the following:
- Business schools
- Vocational or technical programs
- Certification tests
- Apprenticeship and on-the-job training
- Vocational flight training
- Tutorial assistance
- Work study programs
Rules differ for spouses and children, so it’s best to discuss eligibility with both your school and a VA counselor. Restrictions for this program can be somewhat tricky, such as children who are eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program may not use the Fry Scholarship.
Military.com and other GI related programs have begun to collect scholarship information and provide a service that allows eligible family members to see what scholarships, funding, financial aid and other assistance is available to them.
These programs exist because family members have access to a wide range of options, and it becomes difficult to sort through everything. Military.com’s Scholarship Finder program is one of the more robust options to help veterans and their families find appropriate help. This service works in conjunction with other veteran assistance programs, private programs and government provided programs. It has a good track record of providing users with programs that they can use.
It also provides access to scholarships and awards that work in concert with each other. For example, the program reports that some family members are able to use benefits from the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Program in concert with DEA funds, and even individual programs when they take CLEP, DSST and ECE national testing courses and tests.
It’s important to note that each brand has its own SOC program and there are different requirements for each. This means you’ll want to double check anything that provides an SOC option, though these types of finders will typically account for the branch-specific eligibility requirements you must meet.
Scholarship information requires relationship information and will return content specific to you and your situation, whether that’s related to disabilities, time in service, racial or ethnic heritage, location or current service branch.
Getting the Right Education Benefits for Military Spouses
As a military spouse or dependent, your family has made considerable sacrifices to help keep our nation strong. It’s only right that you should use all of the scholarships, funds and assistance available to you in order to further your education and provide for your family.
The DoD, U.S. Armed Forces and the nation are willing to provide you with a wide range of benefits and options. Unfortunately, that can make it hard to locate what’s available to you and difficult to learn how to retrieve those funds. Picking a partner such as Vista Military can help you find and successfully apply for the funding that your family is awarded because of the efforts you have made.
Military Friend Schools are here for you, and it’s time to let the country repay you for your service and sacrifice.
¹GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker