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. If you are a dependent of a service member or veteran, your 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 servicemember’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 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 have the option to transfer some or all of the time remaining on the GI Bill to a dependent. Both eligible spouses and dependent children researching higher education should consider the transfer option in addition to any other type of financial assistance available.
Transferring GI Bill benefits can be complicated for some who are transitioning out of military service and back into civilian life. VA rules state that transferring GI Bill benefits must be done while the military member (including Guard and Reserve) is STILL in the service. And the VA official site reminds service members that the Department of Defense has the final say in who is eligible (or ineligible) to transfer these benefits. Since your ETS date can be overwhelming, discuss transferring this benefit before you start out-processing.
Once GI Bill benefits have been 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 to receive transferred benefits. The Forever GI Bill made it possible to transfer unused GI Bill benefits if a service member or veteran passes away without using them. Additionally, if a service member transfers their GI Benefits to a dependent and that person passes away, the benefit may then be transferred to another qualifying individual.
Who can transfer Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits to a military dependent? The service member must meet the following criteria:
- Served a minimum of six years (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of transfer approval and agrees to serve four additional years in the armed forces.
- 10 years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval, is precluded by either standard policy or statute from committing to four additional years and agrees 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 6 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 for this does not affect the basic ability to apply for other types of VA dependent education options. Some educational assistance programs may require you to have used up or otherwise be unable to use GI Bill benefits. Others may be viewed as a supplement to other education assistance open to you. Note: if you reup in order to transfer your benefits and are unable to complete your additional time in service, you MAY be required to repay any transferred educational benefits that have been used.
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 Sept. 10, 2001. This scholarship covers tuition, housing costs, books, and supplies for a maximum 36 months of benefits. This particular benefit is very detailed in terms of eligibility including marital status and age. Dependent children are eligible once they turn 18 unless the dependent has graduated high school.
Dependent children may be married and according to VA.gov, “A child may be married or over 23 and still be eligible. If they became eligible before Jan. 1, 2013, their eligibility ends on their 33rd birthday. The age limitation is removed if the child became eligible on or after Jan. 1, 2013.”
Eligible surviving spouses do not have a time limit to apply for a Fry Scholarship, but are no longer able to apply once remarried (where applicable). 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 considering the Fry Scholarship option. The VA instructs those in this situation to bring the Fry Scholarship application to the school (or employer for internships, OJT, or apprenticeships). The school/employer must help the applicant complete VA Form 22-1999, Enrollment Certification, and send the application/VA forms to VA. Note: the Fry Scholarship works slightly different than using transferred GI Bill benefits. Both are outlined in this article. Please remember that the GI Bill is not retroactive and you need to apply before starting your learning program.
The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) Program
This VA program provides education and on-the-job training for eligible dependents of veterans with VA ratings of 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.
45 months of education benefits maximum are available, but thanks to ruling updates, some may be eligible for as many as 81 months of GI Bill benefits “if they use the Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance program in conjunction with an entitlement from other VA education programs” according to the VA official site. Just like education benefits for veterans themselves, including the GI Bill and Vocational Rehabilitation, utilizing them can be in conjunction or at different times.
DEA benefits may be available to the dependent children or spouses meeting the following criteria:
- A Veteran who died or is permanently/totally disabled as the result of a service-connected disability.
- A Veteran who died from any cause while such permanent and total service-connected disability existed.
- A service member missing in action or captured in line of duty by a hostile force.
- A service member forcibly detained or interned in line of duty by a foreign government or power.
- A service member 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.
- Some dependents can apply before age 18 and continue after age 26 depending on circumstances.
- Marriage does not prevent dependent children from applying.
- Dependents serving in the military cannot apply for this benefit while on active duty. To pursue training after military service, your discharge must not be under other than honorable conditions.
- Dependents in the military can apply to the VA for an extension of the eligibility period (see the age restrictions for dependent children above) by the number of months/days equal to active duty time.
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 Walter Reed or another military hospital and is likely to be medically discharged, start creating a file of all of the benefits that they and their dependents are eligible for as well as their military records, and when you have it, their DD214.
Choosing Between The Fry Scholarship and DEA
Not all dependents qualify for the Fry Scholarship or the VA DEA program. In some cases, dependents may qualify for both, depending on circumstances. However, VA rules are set up to allow only one program to be used. Applicants must make an “irrevocable election between the two programs” when applying. Dependents may also use the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool to figure out which education benefit is the best choice for them.
In certain cases, a dependent may be technically able to apply for both programs but only one at a time can be used, and the maximum combined benefits are still capped at 81 total months of full-time learning. Note: If your parent died in the line of duty before Aug. 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.
Applying For VA Education Benefits For Dependents
To apply for any of the education benefits programs you see here, certain documentation will be required including discharge paperwork (DD214) for the service member or veteran where applicable, or a statement of service from a currently-serving military member’s chain of command showing 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, it may be required to show 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 and submit electronically where required.
You should also be prepared to supply bank information including routing numbers, account numbers, and address/phone information for your bank; this is so the VA (or the school, where applicable) can send your benefits payments once accepted into the program of your choice. Just like service members and veterans using the GI Bill for the first time, start the registration process early. It will take a minimum of a month for the VA 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 additional 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. MOAA, Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society, and the Army Scholarship Foundation are just a few of the many groups offering additional support.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News