Spouses and children of veterans may be eligible for Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefits based on their servicemember’s qualifying service or disability status. There are three main benefits: Post-9/11 GI Bill Transfer of Eligibility (TOE), Marine GYSGT John David Fry Scholarship (or Fry Scholarship, as it is generally referred to), and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA). Each benefit has its own eligibility requirements, rules, and benefit amounts – which means this is going to be a seriously long post (brace yourselves!).
Post-9/11 TOE: The Post-9/11 GI Bill can be transferred from a servicemember to his/her immediate family members, spouse and/or children, as long as they are in DEERS at the time of transfer. Servicemembers can elect to transfer all or only part of their 36 months of eligibility and can even divide their months of eligibility between multiple dependents. They can even change their minds and reallocate the eligibility at any point.
Things to keep in mind:
- The Department of Defense (DoD) sets rules for transfer – Transferring benefits is essentially a retention tool and, as such, comes with strings, just like other DoD education money does. Currently, the requirements are a minimum of six years currently served and an agreement to serve four more or, if precluded by statute or regulation from serving four additional years, the servicemember must have ten years currently served and an agreement to serve the maximum years allowed by regulation.
- Two step application process – Because the DoD sets the rules for transfer, they must initially approve all Transfer of Education Benefits (TEB) requests and confirm that the servicemember meets the eligibility requirement. This can be done through the MilConnect site (see the link below).
Once the TEB has been approved, the servicemember will receive a notice in MilConnect that he/she has been approved to transfer X amount of months of benefits to X individual. Once the servicemember receives the letter, the dependent must access the Veterans On-line Application (VONAPP) at http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/ and apply for the benefit. The dependent must then take a copy of both the TEB approval and the application to the school’s VA School Certifying Official (SCO). I am emphasizing this because the SCO cannot activate the dependent’s use of the benefit without both of those items.
- Once it’s theirs, it’s theirs – Although the servicemember can adjust how many months a dependent receives and can even retract any and all unused months at any point by notifying the DoD (if still on Active Duty/Reserve status) or the VA (after separation), in all other aspects the benefit belongs to the dependent. All monies will be distributed to the dependent, not the servicemember/veteran, and the SCO and other school and VA officials will not be able to discuss with the servicemember/veteran any information pertaining to the student’s use of the benefit.
- All dependents are not created equal – Although the servicemember can transfer equal amounts of months to a spouse and children, the resulting benefits they can receive are not the same. For example, if the servicemember is still on Active Duty at the time the dependents use the TOE, children can receive the housing stipend but spouses cannot. Additionally, spouses may use the benefit once the servicemember reaches the six year mark of service, while the dependents are not eligible until the ten year mark. Also, children must use their benefit between the date of their 18th birthday or attainment of a high school diploma/GED (whichever comes first) and their 26th birthday. Spouses, however, have the same delimiting date as veterans, which is 15 years after the servicemember’s date of separation.
- Only as many days as transferred – If a veteran is using his/her Post-9/11 GI Bill and his benefit runs out in the middle of a term, VA can, and generally does, continue the benefit until the end of that term. However, it absolutely will not do this for dependents. If a dependent using Post-9/11 GI Bill TOE only has 15 days of benefit remaining at the start of a term, for example, the VA will pay only 15 days of housing stipend. Additionally, it will divide the tuition and fees and book stipend amounts by the number of days in the term, and only pay 15 days worth. Any outstanding balance of tuition and fees will be the student’s responsibility to pay.
Full details on the Post-9/11 GI Bill TOE can be found at: http://www.gibill.va.gov/benefits/post_911_gibill/transfer_of_benefits.html.
Information on TEB requirements and the application can be found at the MilConnect website: https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/milconnect/faces/faqs?ct=fTr&_adf.ctrl-state=kkv6crhra_4&_afrLoop=927324678906000.
Fry Scholarship: The Fry Scholarship is a version of the Post-9/11 GI Bill for children whose parents died in the line of duty after Sept 10, 2001. Although it has many of the same Post-9/11 GI Bill attributes, such as paying for in state tuition and fees, a $1000 a year book stipend, and a housing stipend, there are a few key differences.
Things to keep in mind:
- Delimiting date – While Post-9/11 TOE children must use their benefit before their 26th birthday, Fry Scholarship recipients are eligible until their 33rd birthday (regardless of marital status).
- Not eligible for Yellow Ribbon – The Yellow Ribbon program is an agreement between the VA and a specific school to cover part or all (the amount is defined by the school) of the tuition and fees costs not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill for those individuals who qualify at the 100% eligibility rate. While Fry Scholarship recipients do qualify at the 100% eligibility rate, they are precluded from participating in the Yellow Ribbon program.
- Combining benefits – In a recent change, if a Fry recipient is also eligible for DEA (see below), he/she may complete 36 months of Fry and then be potentially eligible for another 45 months of DEA. If, however, an eligible Fry recipient later earns his/her own VA education benefit, such as traditional MGIB, he/she must give up that benefit in order to receive the Fry Scholarship, just as veterans are required to do. Additionally, since the Fry is a subset of the Post-911 GI Bill, if a recipient later earns his/her own Post-9/11 eligibility, he/she can only receive 36 total months between the Fry and the Post-9/11.
- Initiating benefits – Fry recipients should apply for their benefit through VONAPP (http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/). They should then take either a copy of their application and proof of eligibility (such as proof that the servicemember died in the line of duty) or their letter of eligibility (which will be received from VA 30 or so days after application) to the SCO at the school they wish to attend.
More information about the Fry Scholarship can be found at: http://www.gibill.va.gov/documents/factsheets/fry_scholarship.pdf
Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA): DEA, also called Chapter 35, is a VA education program available to the spouses and dependents of veterans who are 100% permanently and totally disabled as a result of a service-connected disability or who died of service-connected conditions, as well as listed as those listed in POW or MIA status and those on Active Duty who have received a permanent and total rating and are likely to be discharge due to that rating. VA makes all final eligibility decisions. If you aren’t sure if you might qualify, you should contact the VA Education Line at 1-888-442-4551.
Things to keep in mind:
- Eligibility – Generally, children are eligible from 18-26 years of age as long as they are not actively serving themselves (eligibility resumes after active service is complete, as long as the discharge was honorable). Most spouses have 10 years from the date VA finds you eligible or the date of death of the veteran; you can elect whichever is more beneficial to you. Surviving spouses (those whose spouses died on active duty) or those who spouses were declared 100% permanent and total within three years from date of separation, have 20 years to use the benefit. Unless the veteran is deceased, spouses must remain married to the veteran in order to use the benefit in most cases.
- Initiating benefits – Individuals who qualify for DEA should apply for their benefit through VONAPP (http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/). They should then take either a copy of their application and proof of eligibility (such as the veteran’s 100% permanent and total letter) or their letter of eligibility (which will be received from VA 30 or so days after application) to the SCO at the school they wish to attend.
- Stipend only – Recipients of the DEA attending more than half time receive a monthly stipend determined by their courseload. As of 1 Oct 2013, individuals attending full time will receive $1,003 a month. The full stipend range can be found at: http://www.gibill.va.gov/resources/benefits_resources/rates/CH35/ch35rates100113.htm.
- Combining benefits – Generally, VA limits the combination of education benefits to 48 months total, regardless of which benefits you combine. However, effective 1 Oct 2013, individuals who qualify for DEA and another VA education benefit (such as MGIB or Post-9/11 but excluding Vocational Rehabilitation) may qualify for 45 months of DEA and an additional 36 months of another VA education benefit.
Additionally, since DEA only pays a stipend and does not cover any tuition and fees or book money, many states have created scholarships that cover all or partial tuition and fee costs for children of deceased or disabled veterans. Information on what is offered in your state can usually be found on the state’s Department of Education website. Additionally, DEA recipients can qualify for federal financial aid (see tomorrow’s post for more details).
- CHAMPVA – Spouses and dependents, who are not eligible for TRICARE, may be eligible for VA healthcare through the CHAMPVA program while they are receiving DEA. Generally, the DEA recipient must be attending full time to be eligible. Details on the CHAMPVA program can be found at: http://www.va.gov/hac/forbeneficiaries/champva/champva.asp.
One note: When applying for CHAMPVA, you will have the choice of providing “required” or “required” and “optional” documentation. I recommend providing both, as it can shorten the time VA takes to determine your eligibility from as much as 6-8 months to as little as 6-8 weeks.
Full details of DEA can be found at: http://www.gibill.va.gov/documents/pamphlets/ch35_pamphlet(2).pdf
As always, this is just a snippet of the information available on each of these benefits. I recommend fully researching the benefit through the links provided in the post and/or contacting the SCO at the school you wish to attend.
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