Educational Benefits for Military Spouses & Dependents

Written by: Maureen Milliken

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The U.S. government recognizes that military families make sacrifices that can have an impact on a military spouse’s pursuit of a career or education, as well as on the education of their children. To help support spouses and dependents of active-duty military and veterans, the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs provide military spouse education benefits, as well as benefits for dependent children.

Benefits include scholarships and loans, from small amounts to 100% tuition coverage. Military education benefits aren’t limited to traditional four-year colleges, but are available for a variety of education, training, and career advancement programs.

Some of the most familiar military spouse and dependent benefits are the GI Bill, the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account and Dependents Education Assistance program. But there are also programs available on a state level, and others specific to the different branches of the military.

Eligibility requirements and education benefits depend on the education assistance program.

Department of Defense Programs

The U.S. Department of Defense provides education benefits to military spouses and dependents through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which allows a service member to transfer benefits to family members, and the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account program.

Post-9/11 GI Bill Transferability

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most-used education benefit program for service members who entered the military after Sept. 11, 2001. It provides up to 36 months of education benefits, including tuition for an in-state public college or university, fees, living expenses, and more.

Service members who don’t use their benefit, or only use some of it, can transfer benefits to their spouse or dependent children. If the service member has used some of the GI Bill benefit, only the unused portion can be transferred.

The military member must have completed six years of service before requesting the benefits transfer and must agree to an additional four years of service. The spouse or dependent must enroll in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System to qualify. The Department of Defense makes the final decision on whether the transfer is approved.

Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA)

The MyCAA military spouse education benefit is a workforce development scholarship that provides up to $4,000 of financial assistance toward a degree, licensing or certification program, and other career training. It is open to spouses of active-duty service members in pay grades E-1 through E-5, W-1 through W-2, and O-1 through O-2 (if the service member is promoted while the spouse is using the program, there are still ways to qualify). It’s also open to spouses of National Guard and Reserve members.

Military spouses must have completed high school or earned a GED or HiSET to qualify, and they must be approved for the program before the active-duty service member’s date of separation.

Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides two education benefits for military spouses and dependents of service members who died in the line of duty or are disabled veterans. A military spouse or dependent who qualifies for both of these benefits, the DEA and Fry Scholarship, can only use one.

Dependents Education Assistance (DEA) Program

The DEA is for military spouse and college-age children of service members who are permanently and totally disabled because of a service-related condition, or died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition.

The DEA benefit:

  • Is a monthly payment (2022 rate was $1,265) directly to the student.
  • Can be used for degree or certificate programs, vocational education, on-the-job training, work study, tutorial assistance and more.
  • Is for 45 months if the first use was before Aug. 1, 2018; 36 months if the first use was after Aug. 1, 2018
  • Lasts 20 years from the service member’s date of death if they died on active duty, or 10 years from a veteran’s date of death (there may be exceptions).
  • Applies to children between ages 18 and 26 (there may be exceptions)

The Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry Scholarship

The Fry Scholarship is for military spouses and dependents of active-duty service members who died in the line of duty after Sept. 10, 2001. Surviving spouses and children may receive full tuition, a monthly living stipend, money for books, and more, for up to 36 months.

The Fry scholarship provides:

  • Full in-state tuition at public schools, and up to $25,162 a year at private or foreign schools, paid directly to the school.
  • Up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies, divided equally among the terms, paid to the school.
  • A monthly housing allowance paid to the student based on the local Basic Allowance for Housing for E-5 with dependents; online students get half of the BAH national average.

There is no time limit for spouses to use the benefit who became eligible after Jan. 1, 2013; those who became eligible before that date must use it within 15 years. In either case, the spouse loses the benefit if they remarry.

A child who became eligible before Jan. 1, 2013, qualifies when they turn 18, and can use benefits until they turn 33. A child who becomes eligible on or after Jan. 1, 2013, has no time limit to use benefits. If a child becomes eligible before they are 18, they must wait until they’re 18 to use the benefit. A child’s marital status has no effect on eligibility.

VA Education Benefits for Dependents and Survivors Eligibility Requirements

For a military spouse or dependent to be eligible for DEA benefits, the service member or veteran must meet certain requirements. One of these must apply for active-duty service members:

  • Died in the line of duty after Sept. 10, 2001
  • Is missing in action or was captured in the line of duty by a hostile force
  • Was detained by force while in the line of duty by a foreign government or power
  • Is hospitalized or getting outpatient treatment for a service-connected permanent and total disability and is likely to be discharged from the military because of the disability. A service-connected permanent and total disability results from your service and will not go away.

One of these must apply for veterans:

  • Has a service-related permanent disability and is totally disabled
  • Died while on active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability.

State-Provided Education Benefits

Military spouses and dependents can also take advantage of education benefits provided by states. Every state has different benefits, but many provide tuition reimbursement – some up to 100% – and other education support for spouses and children of disabled military members, veterans and those killed in the line of duty.

Information about state military spouse and dependent education benefits can be found at the state’s VA office. The VA lists these offices on its website.

There are also many scholarships, grants and loans available through private sources for military spouse and dependents. The American Legion, the National Military Family Association, and more. Some are listed on Financial Aid Finder. A local VA office can also help connect military families with education benefit resources.

Military Branch-Specific Military Spouse/Dependent Education Benefits

Each branch of the military has military spouse and dependent education benefits.

Air Force Education Benefits

Air Force benefits for military spouses and dependents are through the private, nonprofit Air Force Aid Society (AFAS), which provides scholarships, grants and loans, including:

  • Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program, a highly competitive program that offers need-based $2,000 annual grants to sons and daughters of active-duty, retired and deceased U.S. Air Force members.
  • AFAS Merit Scholarship. A minimum of 10 $5,000 merit-based scholarships are awarded to freshmen who have completed both phases of the General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant application.
  • AFAS Supplemental Education Loan Program. A maximum $1,000 grant for dependents who applied for the Arnold Grant.
  • George S. Brown Spouse Tuition Assistance Program (STAP) provides need-based annual grants up to $1,500 to spouses residing with an active-duty service member stationed outside the U.S.

Army Education Benefits

Army Emergency Relief (AER) is a private nonprofit that provides two military spouse education benefits, as well as one for the children of Army members.

  • Patty Shinseki Spouse Scholarship Program Education Assistance Program is an Army spouse education benefit that provides assistance for up to four full-time undergraduate academic years or eight of part-time.
  • Spouse Education Assistance Programs (SEAP) – for both stateside and overseas education – are based on demonstrated financial need. SSEAP provides grants of up to $2,900 per academic year for education in the U.S. OSEAP provides spouses of active-duty soldiers overseas with up to $2,500.
  • Gen. James Ursano Scholarship Program for Military Children provides up to four academic years of assistance for dependent children of soldiers. It must be re-applied for each year.

Coast Guard

The Coast Guard offers military spouse and dependent benefits through both the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Program and the nonprofit Coast Guard Foundation.

CGMA education benefits include:

  • Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Supplemental Education Grant program provides up to $500 yearly reimbursement for costs associated with degree, training or GED/HiSET programs.
  • CGMA Stafford/PLUS Loan Fee Reimbursement pays back fees for any CGMA student who applies for a Stafford or PLUS education loan and is paid at the end of the academic term.
  • CGMA Education Loan is for students enrolled in an associate’s, bachelor’s or graduate degree program at an accredited college or university, or in a VA or Department of Education-approved vocational technical training program.

The Coast Guard Foundation has five scholarships for spouses and dependents:

  • Children of Coast Guard members can apply for annual scholarship of $1,000-$5,000.
  • Fallen Heroes Scholarship is for children of Coast Guard members who lost their lives during active-duty operations and pays undergraduate education costs.
  • $500 grants for spouses of enlisted members in ranks E-3 through E-6 studying at an accredited institution or program to cover tuition, fees, supplies and related education expenses.
  • Delta Dental Grants of $2,000 for spouses of enlisted Coast Guard members in ranks E-3 through E-6 pursuing degrees in oral health, medical, nursing, and wellness professions.
  • United Services Automobile Association (USAA) Reserve Scholarship for reservists and family members, which helps to cover education expenses like books, lab fees and technical equipment.

Navy and Marine Corps Education Benefits

The nonprofit Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) provides loans and grants to cover education costs for children (under the age of 23) of active duty, retired or deceased veterans; and spouses of active duty and retired service members. All are need-based.

  • Travers Loan Program provides interest-free loans from $500 to $3,000 per academic year for dependent children and spouses of active-duty and retired Navy and Marine Corps members.
  • USS Tennessee Scholarship Fund provides grants of up to $2,000 per academic year for dependent children of active-duty and retired service members who are serving on, or have served on, the USS Tennessee.
  • Spouse Tuition Aid Program (STAP) provides need-based grants of up to $2,000 a year for undergraduate or graduate education to Navy and Marine Corps spouses stationed outside the U.S. Covers up to 50% of tuition.

About The Author

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken has been writing about finance, banking, investment, entrepreneurship, real estate and other related topics for more than 30 years. She started as the “Business Beat” columnist for the now-defunct Haverhill (Mass.) Gazette and currently is one of the hosts of the Mainebiz business-focused podcast, “The Day that Changed Everything” in addition to her daily writing. She also is is the author of three mystery novels and two nonfiction books.


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