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VA Education Benefits For Surviving Spouses and Dependents

Surviving spouses and dependents of military veterans may be eligible for VA benefits to further their education. Below, you’ll find a variety of VA education options spouses and school-age dependents can use to help pay for college or other higher education opportunities.

There are several options for spouses and college-age children who are survivors of a military member who has died. They include using transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance program, and the John Fry Scholarship program.

>> Find VA-approved schools near you with our School Finder tool.

Transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill for Family Members (TEB)

Children and spouses of veterans and service members may be able to go to school using transferred GI Bill education benefits, but transferring those benefits today requires the military member to be on active duty, have the ability to recommit to the military, and there must be a new commitment made as a condition of transfer approval.

Transfers cannot be made after leaving active duty. Transfers cannot be approved if the servicemember is denied reenlistment or is otherwise ineligible to reenlist. And a formal transfer request is necessary, meaning surviving spouses and dependents who want to use Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits after a servicemember has died must have already applied for and been approved for a transfer of benefits.

It may not be possible to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits as a surviving family member if that transfer was not approved prior to the servicemember’s death but you should consider this to be handled on a case-by-case basis at the DoD level. Don’t assume you won’t get benefits without requesting them first.

Using Transferred Benefits

Assuming the above requirements are met, if the veteran or service member formally requested transfer benefits prior to death, the Department of Defense (DOD) must have approved the transfer. Furthermore, recipients of the Post-9/11 GI Bill must be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).

Once received, the recipient must also use the transferred benefits by the deadline. If the veteran or service member and the spouse are no longer married, the ex-spouse is still eligible for the benefits if the veteran or service member does not cancel them. Applicants can only use the benefits of one program at a time.

Find out when you can use transferred benefits

Transferred benefits may help with the costs of undergraduate and graduate programs, non-college degree programs or trade school certifications, flight training, on-the-job training, apprenticeship or correspondence school programs.

Funds can be used to cover housing costs, books, and supplies related to your program of study, as well as fees for testing, licensing and certification exam fees.

Transferring Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits?

Some servicemembers may read the information above and decide to commit to a GI Bill transfer sooner rather than later, “just in case.” This sort of future planning is more critical for those facing deployments or call-ups to duty in forward locations or in hostile fire zones. If you want to start the GI Bill transfer process, you can apply online immediately.

Log into your Login.gov or ID.me account. You may also apply by mail by using the Application for Family Member to Use Transferred Benefits  VA Form 22-1990e and sending it to your local VA office.

Learn more about how to transfer GI Bill benefits

What If The Service Member Hasn’t Requested A Transfer Of Benefits?

To receive a Transfer of Education Benefits (TEB), the veteran or service member must first make their request through milConnect while still serving.

The family member cannot initiate the application to the DoD. Transfers are not automatically approved. If you are unsure of the status of a transfer request, it may be necessary to check with the command support staff of your current base or by logging into the platform you requested the transfer through.

Once approval has been received from the Department of Defense, a Certificate of Eligibility will be issued, containing information about benefits and deadlines available to the recipient. Then, the recipient applies to use the transferred benefits.

>> Find VA-approved schools near you with our School Finder tool.

When Can I Use Transferred Benefits?

If You’re a Spouse

If you received transferred benefits as a spouse, you can use the benefits right away. You can use them while the service member is on active duty or after they’ve separated from service.

If the separation from service occurred before January 2013, the benefits can be used for up to 15 years. If the separation is after January 2013, the benefits can be used whenever the recipient wishes with no time limits. Both situations are contingent upon the service member or veteran not canceling the transfer of benefits to the recipient.

If You Are A School-Age Dependent

Children of veterans and service members can use their transferred benefits after the service member completes ten years of service once the child has either graduated high school or turned 18. These benefits must be utilized before the child turns 26 to be valid.

Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance (DEA)

Children or spouses of veterans and service members who have died, or those service members who are missing in action, or have suffered a disability directly related to military service can apply for Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance (DEA)/Chapter 35.

Qualification standards require at least one of the following conditions to be accurate regarding the veteran or service member must have experienced:

  • Permanent and total service-related disability
  • Died on duty
  • Death related to service-related disability
  • Missing in action/Captured/Forcibly Detained while on duty for more than 90 days
  • Receiving medical treatment in or out of hospital for service-related total disability

In addition to these requirements, you must also be 18 years old or older and have completed high school. Current marital status will not affect this eligibility.

Age and Time Limits for Using DEA Benefits

Qualifying children and spouses of service members and veterans may use their DEA benefits at any time if the veteran or service member died, was captured, or became disabled by August 2023, you turned 18 years old after August 2023, or you graduated high school after August 2023.

If any of these three conditions happened before August 2023, your benefits have a cap on when they can be used. For those who qualify, benefits are received after the age of 18 and can be used for eight years.

If the recipient joins the military, these benefits are excluded during active duty. To qualify after serving, the service member must have been honorably discharged and can only use the benefits until they turn 31. For spouses, benefits can last ten years from the service member’s death date. If the service member dies in the line of duty, benefits extend to 20 years.

If the spouse or beneficiary joins the service, they cannot use these benefits while on active duty and must be given an honorable discharge at their point of exit to be eligible.

What Benefits Can I Get?

With this program, you will receive payments to help cover the cost of college and graduate degree programs, career-training certificates, apprenticeships and on-the-job training, education, and career counseling. View approved programs and schools first before enrolling.

Before enrolling officially, contact the certifying official to guarantee the program is eligible for VA benefit qualifiers. Those who started classes or training by August 2018 can qualify for up to 45 months of benefits. If class or training starts after August 2018, the benefits can last up to 36 months.

>> Find VA-approved schools near you with our School Finder tool.

How Do I Get My Monthly Payment?

Monthly payments are sent directly to the beneficiary. For those in college degree programs, you will not need to prove enrollment for DEA benefits. However, those in non-college degree programs must verify their enrollment status monthly to receive their DEA benefits.

Learn how to verify your enrollment for DEA benefits

Can I Get DEA and DIC benefits?

If you’re the child of a Veteran or service member, you cannot qualify for VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) if you are already 18 years old and receiving DEA. If you are a military spouse, you can get both program payments simultaneously.

What If I Qualify For DEA And The Fry Scholarship?

You may choose only one program if you qualify for the DEA and Fry Scholarship. Once the choice is finalized, you cannot change to the other program unless your parent died in the line of duty before August 2011.

If that is true for you, you can use both programs for up to 81 months of schooling or training. Even with this exception, the programs cannot be used simultaneously.

Learn about DIC

Is There Help For A Disability That Prevents Me From Achieving My Goals?

If you require special restorative training to reduce the effects of physical or mental disability in order to further your education. Approval for vocational training is another option. However, medical and psychiatric care will not be covered.

How Do I Apply?

Applicants can apply online or by mailing in their VA Form 22-5490 in the mail. If your program has already begun, send your form to the regional processing office, which should be located on the last page of the completed form.

Contact the certifying official at your school and inform them that you have applied for VA education benefits; request that they submit and verify your enrollment online for approval. If you have not enrolled, send your completed form to the regional processing office first.

If you need help with your application, contact an accredited representative through your potential school program or regional processing office.

Fry Scholarship

Children of service members can receive Fry Scholarship benefits until 33 if they graduated high school or turned 18 before January 2013.

If a selected reserve parent dies from a service-related disability, Fry benefits will apply anytime. If a service parent died on duty before August 2011, the child may qualify for the Fry Scholarship and Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA).

These benefits cannot be used simultaneously but can be spread out over 81 months of full-time studies and training.

For those also receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, or DIC, you will no longer be able to use DIC, once your Fry Scholarship payments begin. The marital status of the service member’s child does not affect qualification status.

If the spouse of a service member remarries, they will lose eligibility for the Fry Scholarship. However, they may still qualify for the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation payments while receiving Fry Scholarship benefits.

>> Find VA-approved schools near you with our School Finder tool.

What Benefits Can I Get?

To receive the benefits of a Fry Scholarship, you must first pick a qualifying school and ask your school’s certifying official to verify the program is eligible for VA benefits, fill out a Dependent’s Application for VA Benefits (VA Form 22-5490) and submit to your regional VA office.

You may also apply online. Minors applying for benefits must also have parents or guardians sign the document.

If approved, you may qualify for up to three years of benefits that help pay for tuition, housing, books and supplies for school.

If you are already enrolled and are studying in a qualifying program, contact your certifying school official and ask them to fill out the VA Enrollment Certification (VA Form 22-1999) online in the Enrollment Manager system.

If you are eligible and qualify for the Fry Scholarship and DEA, you must choose between the two. The choice will be official and fixed once made unless your parent died on duty before August 2011. Only in that circumstance can you use both programs, although not simultaneously, which will provide up to 81 months of full-time schooling.

>> Find VA-approved schools near you with our School Finder tool.


About the author

Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.

Kena Sosa

Kena Sosa is an award-winning author, filmmaker and percussionist. She earned her BA from OLLU and her MBEGT from SMU. She published two award-winning children’s books. Kena has written for CBS/DFW Local and Multicultural Review Magazine. She was the Guest Editor for the Fall/Winter 2023 ChildArt Magazine issue. Kena has written for Recon Media since 2023.