VA education benefits for dependents include options under the GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon program, and scholarship funds. If you are a military dependent wondering what your options from the VA might be, much depends on the nature of the military member’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 military member’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.
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 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.
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.
Who can transfer Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits to a military dependent? The service member must meet the following criteria:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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-rated medical issues deemed 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.
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 getting 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 to 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 dishonorable 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.
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 pays at the 100% level for a maximum 36 months of benefits. 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 January 1, 2013, their eligibility ends on their 33rd birthday. The age limitation is removed if the child became eligible on or after January 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).
Choosing Between The Fry Scholarship and DEA
Some won’t qualify for either the Fry Scholarship or the VA DEA program. Others may qualify for both, depending on circumstances. However, VA loan rules are set up to allow only one program to be used; applicants must make an “irrevocable election between the two programs” when applying.
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 total regardless.
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 for the military member where applicable, or a statement of service from a currently-serving military member’s chain of command showing the military 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 to you once accepted into the program of your choice.