VA Education Benefits: Dependents

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, “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.

GI Bill: How Do I Use It?

Using your GI Bill benefits involves starting a process that begins with your school choices first. Not all colleges, Universities, training schools, or other institutions accept the GI Bill, though a great many do.

Getting Started

The first step toward using your GI Bill benefits is to apply for them through the VA online, in person at a regional VA office, or with a VA certifying official at the school of your choice.

But does your chosen school accept the GI Bill? Is it allowed to accept GI Bill funds based on accreditation or other requirements?

Contact the school’s admissions department and ask if the school accepts the GI Bill, and how to get in touch with the person who handles VA issues on the school’s behalf. For smaller colleges, this may be one person’s part-time responsibility, but larger campuses may have several staff members dedicated to helping veterans and currently serving military members.

It’s best to assume you’re dealing with a busy, one-person office that handles your paperwork. This means being well-prepared for your dealings with your campus VA certifying official. This person does not work for the Department of Veterans Affairs, but will interact with the VA on your behalf.

Required Documentation For Your GI Bill Benefits Application

When you start working with your VA certifying official, you will need some documentation that includes your Social Security number, the bank account and routing numbers where you wish your GI Bill housing allowance and other payments sent, have any relevant transcripts send to the school, plus any paperwork that shows your current status as a veteran, retiree, etc.

Veterans will be required to provide a copy of DD Form 214 discharge paperwork. Those still in uniform will likely need to provide a copy of current orders, a letter from their orderly room, First Sergeant, or supervisor indicating that the member is in good standing and still serving.

It’s best to have as much of the required documentation as possible for your first meeting with the certifying official. You may be able to submit scans or electronic versions of your required paperwork, depending on school standards, state law, current VA requirements, etc.

Processing Times

It can take a month or longer for the Department of Veterans Affairs to process GI Bill benefit applications, which is why it’s best to begin the process as soon as possible. GI Bill housing stipends and other payments are often received approximately 30 days after the first month the student’s GI Bill benefits begin.

Your school may receive tuition and fee payments sooner (or later) than this. It’s very important to check school policy on late payments and whether the student is required to take action to remove admin holds or account suspensions because of delayed GI Bill benefit payments. In general, the school will have experience with these issues, but you should never assume that corrections to your student account happen automatically.

GI Bill: How Many Degrees Can You Get With It?

How many degrees can you get with the GI Bill? That depends on a variety of factors but the short answer is, more than one.

The key to getting the most credit hours out of your GI Bill benefits is to review your entitlement, review the school’s degree program requirements and/or your educational goals to structure a course of study that takes full advantage of your benefits and the time allotted to complete the classes.

That sounds fairly simple, but no two schools are alike and some veterans find they have to learn and understand new approaches to academics in order to get the most from their benefits.

Planning Ahead To Get Multiple Degrees With Your GI Bill

Those who serve and have not retired or separated from active service are in the best position to plan for more than one degree. The key is to use other tuition assistance offered to you while serving rather than using your GI Bill.

The Department of Defense offers Military Tuition Assistance to active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members. This program pays 100% of the tuition expenses for education billed for $250 or less per semester hour.

Under Military Tuition Assistance, you can attend two-year or four-year institutions on-base, off-base, remotely, or in a traditional classroom. Each branch of the military including the Coast Guard offers to pay this tuition assistance directly to the school.

Tuition assistance can be used for:

  • Independent study
  • Vocational/technical programs
  • Undergraduate programs
  • Graduate programs
  • Distance-learning programs

Starting your program while still in uniform and using funding sources like these instead of your GI Bill is a great first step toward earning multiple degrees. The GI Bill funds you save here can be used for a Bachelors or Graduate-level program instead. Or both, one after the other.

Veterans don’t have access to Military Tuition Assistance once they retire or separate; it is useful to see if there are state or local programs aimed at veterans that may offset some of your costs before using the GI Bill.

Getting The Most Mileage From GI Bill Benefits To Earn Multiple Degrees

Some students don’t realize that having the GI Bill does not mean you can’t apply for other financial assistance in the form of grants, loans, state-operated veteran benefits programs, etc. It’s best to fill out a FAFSA form and determine what other financial help you may be entitled to. Doing so can stretch your GI Bill money even further for multiple degree programs.

Once you begin using your GI Bill benefits, you will need to determine what is possible under your program. For example, the Montgomery GI Bill does not feature access to the Yellow Ribbon Program–an agreement between participating schools and the VA that provides additional funds (provided by the school) to cover the gap between the VA GI Bill benefit and the final cost of tuition for private institutions.

However, the Post 9/11 GI Bill does include the Yellow Ribbon program, and that is an important factor in school choices, program choices, and how aggressively to approach your college career. The Yellow Ribbon program helps extend GI Bill benefits, but not for all programs or applicants.

The Montgomery GI Bill also does not pay a housing stipend, unlike the Post 9/11 GI Bill. But those who plan to attend remotely or online-only are not penalized under the Montgomery GI Bill, and those who attend online only classes using the Post 9/11 GI Bill are subject to greatly reduced housing stipends unless at least one class is taken in person.

Knowing the limits of your program will help you make more informed choices about how to stretch your benefits.

Attending Multiple Schools

Some GI Bill students need to take classes at more than one school in order to meet certain academic requirements or to speed up progress in the program. This is permitted under GI Bill rules as long as the attendance meets certain criteria.

Going to more than one school is sometimes needed to complete a degree program on time, especially if the student’s “main” college only offers a key class once per year.

VA rules for attending more than one school at a time state classes at more than one school may be approved when both of the following apply:

  • The school granting your degree considers the classes at the second school to be required in order to get your degree
  • The classes at both schools count toward your degree

What You Need To Know About Multiple GI Bill Degrees

There are things you cannot do with your GI Bill benefits. For example, GI Bill money can’t be used for the same class twice, “unless you get a failing grade in a class that the school requires for graduation” accordion to

You cannot use the GI Bill for classes that don’t count toward your stated degree. However you can use Post 9/11 GI Bill funds to pay for licensing fees related to your professional program, certification tests, SAT testing, LSAT, and others.

Depending on the nature of your degree, you may wish to earn a second Bachelor’s degree; this may or may not be possible depending on the nature of the second degree. A degree too similar to the first one earned may not qualify.

That’s not the same as applying for a graduate-level program in the same field–a Bachelors’ degree in Psychology, for example, followed by a Masters’ degree in the same discipline would not be rejected.

The Process Is Simpler Than You Think

Earning more than one degree with your GI Bill benefits does not require you to sign a statement of intent to do so, or otherwise commit to the VA to proceed with more than one; all you have to do is have enough remaining GI Bill benefits to enter your program and structure your attendance according to your needs.

What does this mean? Basically, going through the process of applying to the school, going through the school’s Veterans Affairs office or veteran rep to get your GI Bill benefits moving forward, and decide how to attend.

If you have never used your benefits before you will have your full entitlement. If you have, you will need to check to see how much of your entitlement remains. Then the real work begins.

No two schools may run exactly the same. Some measure classes using terms, the semester approach may be used, or some other unit of measure. The key to maximizing your GI Bill benefits includes knowing what constitutes full-time attendance versus part-time and how you can use that to your advantage.

Your VA benefits are paid based on your status as a full-time or part-time student. But you get more mileage out of your benefits if you take the most number of credit hours you are allowed to take as a full or part-time student.

If full time attendance is between 12 and 15 hours, you get more from your benefits taking the full 15–reducing your overall degree program length. This doesn’t work at all schools, but where and when it does you may find it helpful. These are the little details you’ll need to know about your school, your program, and how your version of the GI Bill will pay for it and the program you select afterwards.

GI Bill: What Happens When You Are Mobilized?

If you are receiving the GI Bill and have to drop out of school as a result of reserve or Guard mobilization orders what will happen to your GI Bill? Will you lose your housing allowance? Will you owe the Department Veterans Affairs money?

Different Rules For Mobilizations

Normally, if you drop classes the VA will take back any money, including the tuition and Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) payments you received for those classes. However, different rules apply if you’re dropping them because you’ve been mobilized for military service.

If you drop out due to mobilization, the VA will pay your tuition and fees to the school for the entire term, no matter when you drop out. As a special bonus, VA will also give you back any GI Bill entitlement you used during the term from which you were forced to withdraw.

For instance, if your term began on Jan. 15 and you dropped out on March 15, you used two months of GI Bill entitlement (which is normally 36 months total). VA will pay you for attending school those two months and give you back those two months of entitlement to be used at a later date.

VA will also pay you the MHA through your date of withdrawal, rather than stopping it on the beginning date of the term, which is what normally happens if you drop classes. If you’ve been mobilized under Title 10 or under Title 32 for at least 30 days, your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) will begin on the effective date of your orders, so you will most likely get some type of housing allowance for the entire time.

Effect of Mobilization on Future GI Bill Payments

Being called to active duty may also increase your Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlement percentage. The entitlement percentage is based on the amount of time you have served on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001. The entitlement percentage affects how much of your tuition is reimbursed to the school and how much your MHA payment will be.

For example, if you have served 24 months active duty after Sept. 10, 2001 your GI Bill percentage is 80%. If you are attending a public school with a tuition of $10,000 a semester you would have 80% of your tuition and fees or $8,000 paid by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Active duty orders and mobilizations can add more active service to your base GI Bill percentage. The percentages and corresponding active duty requirements are:

  • 100% – 36 or more total months
  • 100% – 30 or more consecutive days with disability related discharge.
  • 90% – 30 total months
  • 80% – 24 total months
  • 70% – 18 total months
  • 60% – 6 total months
  • 50% – 90 or more days

The entire length of your mobilization will be added to your existing service.

Also, if you haven’t been on active service since before Jan. 1, 2013, your mobilization may give you more time to use your GI Bill.

People who were discharged before that date have 15 years to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill or 10 years to use their Montgomery GI Bill. However, additional active duty of at least 90 days effectively removes that time limit, and your additional active duty will effectively remove any time limits for receiving your GI Bill. Thanks to that new service, you are now covered under Public Law 115-48, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, commonly known as the “Forever GI Bill.”

The Best Military Benefits

What are the best military benefits? The answer to that question likely depends on your focus. Those who are interested in education will have a higher priority in that area, but those who are more interested travel, living overseas, or buying a new home have different needs. In general, there are benefits that can help no matter what your immediate interests may be.

The GI Bill: Post 9-11, Forever GI Bill, And More

The GI Bill® is the best-known education benefit, and while it’s true that the GI Bill can be used for online education, it’s not the only military benefit available to those in uniform. Each branch of the service offers its own tuition assistance program – the Army’s program is a great example. The Army’s tuition assistance program has specific restrictions (it cannot be used for “a lower or lateral degree program from the one the Soldier currently possesses”) but also provides financial assistance to help complete a high school degree where necessary.

These programs can be used for, among other things, courses available on-base where offered. Overseas duty locations may have more options for on-base college courses, but every duty assignment is different. Those who wish to pursue off-duty education at stateside assignments should check with their orderly room, First Sergeant, or on-base Education Office to see what programs might be available at that installation.

There is also help available for military spouses and dependents. The Department of Veterans Affairs official website has more information on how to register for these programs.


Why is education at the top of our list? Because unlike purchasing a home, or getting access to specific types of healthcare in the military medical system (or via civilian providers through TRICARE) education benefits can be used nearly anywhere a military member winds up being assigned.

VA Home Loans

In our previous article about the best military benefits, we covered education and transition assistance, but the VA home loan benefit deserves a special look for one important reason; military members commonly use VA home loans to purchase property over the course of a military career, but VA loans provide some not-so-obvious help for those who know to explore their options.

VA home loans are a unique benefit for military members because the VA loan program allows eligible borrowers to apply to get a home loan, but does not guarantee one to all applicants. You must be financially qualified to be approved for a VA home loan the same as with any mortgage. But for those who do qualify, lower interest rates and more consumer friendly terms await. What does “consumer friendly” mean?

One example-you cannot be penalized for paying off your mortgage loan earlier than the full term of your loan. Borrowers who want to pay more than their minimum mortgage payment can do so without fear of being “dinged” at payoff time with fees or charges that act as a penalty for paying in full early.

But one of the best “hidden” benefits of VA loans? The ability to purchase a home with multiple units (up to four) and rent out the unused units to others. VA loans have an occupancy requirement, so you can’t buy property as an investment that you never use as your primary address. But you can occupy one of the units and rent out the rest.

Another “hidden” benefit-you can use a VA home loan to build on land you already own. You do not have to purchase an existing structure with a VA loan if you have a participating VA lender willing to work with you in this area. Not all participating lenders may offer VA construction loans, but for those who do, this is definitely an option. It’s good to know that borrowers cannot go the opposite route with a VA loan-the rules do not allow you to buy “unimproved land” with no plan or start date to begin construction on a new home.

Some borrowers want to know if they can purchase mixed-use property that combines residential and non-residential features. This is permitted as long as the residential use of the property is the main feature and the non-residential use of the home does not exceed 25% of the total floor area. This can be an advantage for borrowers who are considering running their own business out of the property such as a storefront, but the space limitation must be reckoned with when planning this kind of purchase.

VA loans are always intended for owner-occupiers, so any plans you have for a VA mortgage must include your using the property as your home in addition to other purposes. Talk to your chosen participating VA lender about the many options open to you with a VA home loan. You may find that a VA mortgage offers you a wider range of possibilities than just the purchase of a typical single-family suburban home.

Transition Assistance

Here’s another area you might wonder about in terms of being included at the top of a “Best Military Benefits” list-why is transition assistance one of the most important military benefits if you don’t use it until the end of your military career? Simply put, you have help waiting to help you begin and continue the process of switching from life in uniform to a civilian career. The long-term effects of your transition should not be taken lightly, especially for those who have their eye on a civilian career in the federal jobs system, Civil Service, or as a government contractor.

Military members find they are scheduled for a number of transition assistance briefings as a required part of their out processing, but there are resources retiring or separating military members should explore long before they start working on those out processing checklists. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers programs under the heading of Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment. that can help you get resume help, job training, or career change coaching.

In the eyes of the DoD, transition assistance is a far-reaching concept that includes both physical, mental, and educational aspects, so if you’re just starting to explore your options in this area, be prepared for a wealth of information about a well-rounded approach to your new life in the private sector.