VA Education Benefits for DependentsUpdated: November 3, 2022
VA education benefits for dependents include options under the GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon program and scholarship funds. Eligible dependents are defined as immediate family members (i.e., spouse, child, adopted stepchild). Options from the VA depend on the nature of the active duty service member’s or veteran’s service, time spent in uniform, and what GI Bill program the member signed up for at the start of their military career.
If you are eligible for any of the programs listed here, you will need the service member’s or veteran’s proof of service, your own proof of status as a military dependent, and other documentation as required by each individual program. You may also be required to submit bank information in order to receive VA benefits via direct deposit (see below).
VA Education Benefits for Dependents: The GI Bill Transfer Option
Those who signed up for and are qualified to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill can transfer some or all of the remaining time to a dependent. Eligible spouses and dependent children researching higher education should consider the transfer option in addition to any other available financial assistance.
Transferring GI Bill benefits can be complicated for those transitioning out of military service and back into civilian life. VA rules state that the service member must request the transfer of GI Bill benefits while still in the service. The VA official site also reminds service members that the Department of Defense has the final say in who is eligible (or ineligible) to transfer these benefits. Since the ETS date can be overwhelming, service members should discuss transferring this benefit before they start out-processing.
Once GI Bill benefits are transferred to a dependent, the recipient is still required to apply with the Department of Veterans Affairs in order to receive and use them. GI Bill transfer recipients must be enrolled in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS) and be eligible for benefits at the time of transfer.
The Forever GI Bill allows the transfer of unused GI Bill benefits if a service member or veteran passes away without using them. Additionally, if a service member transfers GI Benefits to a dependent and that person passes away, the benefit may then be transferred to another qualifying individual.
Service members who meet the following criteria can transfer Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits to a military dependent:
- Served a minimum of six years (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of transfer approval and agreed to serve four additional years in the armed forces.
- Completed 10 years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval, are precluded by either standard policy or statute from committing to four additional years and agree to serve for the maximum amount of time allowed by such policy or statute.
- Transfers must be submitted and approved while the service member is still on duty.
- National Guard members must also have six cumulative years of active duty service in order to transfer this benefit or be willing to add on to their term of service.
Signing up to transfer benefits does not affect your basic ability to apply for other types of VA dependent education options. Some educational assistance programs may require you to have used up or be otherwise unable to use GI Bill benefits. Others may be viewed as a supplement to other education assistance open to you. Note: if the service member reups in order to transfer benefits and is unable to complete the additional time in service, you may be required to repay any transferred educational benefits that have been used.
Note that the GI Bill is not retroactive, and you need to apply before starting your learning program.
The Yellow Ribbon Program
If you are a dependent who is eligible for GI Bill benefits (above) or the Fry Scholarship (below), you may also qualify for funding through the Yellow Ribbon Program. This helps pay for the increased costs associated with out-of-state, private school or graduate school, which may not be covered by the GI Bill.
The school you attend must be an institute of higher learning that participates in the program. Each school has a maximum number of students they can offer the program too.
The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship
Fry Scholarships are offered to qualifying children and spouses of service members who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001. This scholarship covers tuition, housing costs, books and supplies for a maximum 36 months of benefits. Eligibility requirements for this particular benefit are very detailed. Dependent children are eligible once they turn 18 or graduate high school, whichever comes first. Those who turned 18 or graduated prior to January 1, 2013 are eligible only until they turn 33. Eligibility doesn’t end for those who turned 18 or graduated after that date. Dependent children may be married.
Eligible surviving spouses do not have a time limit to apply for a Fry Scholarship but are no longer eligible if they remarry.
Dependent children must elect to stop receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) in order to receive the Fry Scholarship. Spouses can receive both benefits at the same time.
Some applicants may already be in a learning program when they consider the Fry Scholarship. The VA instructs them to have the school or employer (for internships, on-the-job training or apprenticeships) to complete and submit VA Form 22-1999, the VA Enrollment Certification.
The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) Program
This VA program provides education and on-the-job training for eligible dependents of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition. The program is also open to eligible dependents of veterans who died while on active duty or as a result of a VA-rated condition caused by or associated with military service.
Most dependents can receive a maximum of 36 months of education benefits maximum. If you first accessed the benefits prior to August 1, 2018, then you may be eligible for up to 45 months of benefits. Also, thanks to ruling updates, some dependents may be eligible for as many as 81 months of education benefits by accessing two programs (such as DEA benefits and transferred GI Bill benefits)..
DEA benefits may be available to the dependent children or spouses if the service member or veteran meets one of the following conditions:
- The veteran died while on active duty.
- The veteran died or was permanently/totally disabled as the result of a service-connected disability.
- The service member is missing in action or was captured in the line of duty by a hostile force.
- The service member was forcibly detained or interned in the line of duty by a foreign government or power.
- The service member is hospitalized (or receiving outpatient treatment) for a service-connected permanent and total disability and is likely to be discharged for that disability.
Other requirements include the following:
- Dependent children must be between the ages of 18 and 26, except in certain circumstances
- Dependent children can be married.
- Dependents serving in the military cannot apply for this benefit while on active duty. To pursue training after military service, you must receive an honorable discharge.
- Dependents in the military can apply to the VA for an extension of the eligibility period by the number of months/days of active duty time. Generally, benefits cannot extend past your 31st birthday.
Remember: Everyone’s situation is different. The eligibility criteria can be very confusing, and it is best to check with the VA before making plans that rely on this benefit. If you have a service member who is recovering at a military hospital and is likely to be medically discharged, start a file with their military records and all the benefits that they and their dependents are eligible for, as well their DD 214 when you have it.
Choosing Between the Fry Scholarship and DEA
Not all dependents qualify for the Fry Scholarship or the VA DEA program. Some dependent children may qualify for both. However, VA rules generally allow you to access only one program. You must choose one when you apply and cannot change your mind. The VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool can help you decide which education benefit is the best choice for you.
Note: If your parent died in the line of duty before August 1, 2011, you may qualify for both the Fry Scholarship and the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program. Although you may utilize both, you can still only use one program at a time, and the maximum combined benefts are still capped at 81 total months of full-time learning.
Applying for VA Education Benefits for Dependents
To apply for any of the education benefits programs you see here, you will need to provide certain documentation, including discharge paperwork (DD 214) or a statement of service from a verifying that the service member is an active member in good standing.
You will also be required to supply Social Security Numbers, copies of military orders, dependent IDs and school transcripts, where applicable. In some cases, the VA will require proof that you have been accepted into a learning program, apprenticeship, training or college. You may need to submit paperwork to the nearest VA regional office or fill out online forms that you’ll submit electronically.
Be prepared to supply bank information, including routing numbers, account numbers and address/phone information so that the VA (or the school, where applicable) can send your benefits payments once you are accepted into the program of your choice. Start the registration process early. The VA will take about a month to process your initial claim, and they may have additional verification questions. If you sign up for direct deposit, your payments will arrive sooner than issued checks.
Additional Education Benefits for Dependents
In addition to Federal VA programs, many states have education benefits for eligible dependents of veterans. Eligibility differs. Some programs are based on years of service, some on disability rating, and some are more general. It is definitely worth looking into your state-sponsored programs, as in some cases, tuition, fees and textbooks are completely covered at state schools. Additionally, many non-profits or Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) have scholarships for military and veteran dependents. Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and the Army Scholarship Foundation are just a few of the many groups offering additional support.