As an active-duty service member or veteran of the armed forces, you’re likely familiar with the many benefits and perks you have earned through your military service. However, you may not know that some of your military benefits may also extend to your children during and after your service. Learning about and taking advantage of these military benefits for children of service members is another way to support your family and extend the legacy of your service.
What Benefits are Children of Military Members Eligible for?
The list of benefits and programs available to family members of those in the military and veterans is long and wide-ranging, touching categories as diverse as education and health care, child care and employment counseling. Qualifying for these programs and benefits isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition, and there are some rules for eligibility. So, let’s explore the available military benefits for children and how to take advantage of these important programs.
Education benefits – and specifically the GI Bill – are some of the most celebrated programs associated with military service. In some circumstances, the investment in your GI Bill can also extend to your child’s education.
Did you know that unused GI Bill money can be transferred to help pay for your child’s education? Updates and revisions that are part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill allow for unused education benefits to be transferred for education assistance for military family members, whether they be a child or a spouse. Of course, there are rules for eligibility: In order to transfer the GI Bill benefits, the service member must have completed at least six years of active or reserve service and be obligated to serve at least four additional years. For example, an enlisted member or officer who has served at least six years and is committed for another four years can transfer unused GI Bill benefits to their child. Service members who aren’t eligible to serve another four years can still qualify if they’ve served at least 10 years (active or reserve).
There are also education benefits available through the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, known as Chapter 35 Educational Benefits, that may be available to a veteran’s dependent spouse or child or a surviving spouse or child. Qualifying family members could receive education and training, money for tuition, money for housing, and money for books and supplies.
There are eligibility requirements when applying for Chapter 35 Educational Benefits as a survivor. For example, one of the following statements must be true in order to qualify:
- The service member died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001, or
- The service member is missing in action or was captured in the line of duty by a hostile force, or
- The service member was detained (held) by force while in the line of duty by a foreign government or power, or
- The service member is in the hospital or getting outpatient treatment for a service-connected permanent and total disability, and is likely to be discharged for that disability.
Chapter 35 benefits may also be available to the child or spouse of a veteran if one of the following statements is true:
- The veteran is permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected disability, or
- The veteran died while on active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability.
Military benefits for children and the rules for coverage are more well defined when it comes to health care coverage. TRICARE functions as the military’s government-managed health insurance program, with various coverage plans that provide health care for current and former service members, their spouses and children. Unmarried biological, step-children and adopted children of active-duty personnel and retirees are eligible for TRICARE until age 21, or 23 if enrolled in college. (This eligibility may extend beyond these age limits if the child is severely disabled.) At age 21 or 23, a child may qualify to purchase TRICARE Young Adult, an option for unmarried, adult children who have aged out of regular TRICARE coverage. Eligibility for TRICARE Young Adult ends at age 26.
Another coverage plan that may be available to children of military veterans is the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs, or CHAMPVA. This VA program shares the cost of covered health-care services and supplies with eligible beneficiaries, but anyone eligible for TRICARE is not eligible for CHAMPVA. To qualify, you must also be:
- The spouse or child of a veteran who has been rated permanently and totally disabled for a service-connected disability by a VA regional office or
- The surviving spouse or child of a veteran who died from a VA-rated service-connected disability or
- The surviving spouse or child of a veteran who was at the time of death rated permanently and totally disabled from a service-connected disability or
- The surviving spouse or child of a military member who died in the line of duty, not due to misconduct.
When it comes to benefits related to military child care, active-duty personnel and qualified retirees and veterans enjoy a number of choices. For starters, the Department of Defense runs more than 800 Child Development Centers that are located on military bases around the world. These centers typically offer care for children ages six weeks to 12 years, with fees based on pay and services offered. Some installations also organize in-home child-care provider programs that allow home-based and certified care. Subsidies may also be available to pay for care at an off-base facility.
If you are hoping to start or expand your family through adoption, the Defense Department offers assistance to military personnel, including reimbursement of adoption costs, tax credits and more.
With the Defense Department Adoption Reimbursement Policy, qualifying families can claim up to $2,000 per child and $5,000 per calendar year in reimbursement for certain adoption expenses. Military service members who adopt a child under age 18, including step-children, qualify for the Defense Department Adoption Reimbursement Policy funds. Some of the expenses that qualify for reimbursement include:
- Public and private agency fees, including adoption fees charged by an agency in a foreign country
- Placement fees, including fees charged adoptive parents for counseling
- Legal fees, including court costs for services that are unavailable to a member of the military
- Medical expenses, including certain hospital expenses of the biological mother of the child to be adopted
- Certain hospital expenses of a newborn infant to be adopted
- Medical care given to an adopted child before the adoption
- Physical examinations for the biological mother of the child to be adopted
Veterans with service-connected infertility are also eligible to receive reimbursement of adoption expenses, with rates and covered expenses matching those offered to active-duty families.
As the family member of a service member or veteran with a service-connected disability, you may be eligible for career counseling benefits from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs through its Personalized Career Planning and Guidance program. Applying for these career benefits means you can receive résumé help and guidance in navigating paths to employment, and more.
The ability to provide for your family in the event of your death is a bit of the peace of mind offered by the Defense Department’s Survivor Benefit Program (SBP). Similar to a life insurance policy, the SBP provides income protection to not only a surviving spouse, but also to your children until they can become self-supporting. Children are eligible for SBP payments as long as they are unmarried and under age 18, or under age 22 if still in school. The payments equal 55 percent of covered retired pay, with all eligible children dividing the benefit in equal shares.
Children of veterans can also receive help with covering costs for the burial of their parents. This allowance will help cover burial and funeral costs and can be used to pay for a gravesite or internment. Money can also be applied toward the costs to transport remains to their burial grounds.
The children of wartime veterans could also qualify for a monthly pension. You may be eligible if you are single and under the age of 18. If you are between ages 19 and 23 and enrolled in a VA-approved school, you could also qualify for the payment. Those with a disability that occurred before turning age 18 may also be eligible.
Finally, the children, spouses and some parents of service members who died in the line of duty may qualify for the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, a monthly, tax-free benefit paid to eligible survivors. Family members of vets who passed away due to service-related disease or injury may also qualify.
There are, of course, other military benefits for children. As the child of a veteran, you may qualify for the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC), allowing you to obtain necessary caregiver education and training, as well as counseling and mental health services. PCAFC can also provide cost coverage for travel and lodging when traveling with a veteran for health-care purposes, financial assistance for health-care-related travels, and even a monthly stipend.
Another program, the Children of Women Vietnam Veterans Health Care Benefits Program, is designed to assist the children of veterans born with birth defects or those who developed diseases later in life. This program covers necessary treatment for a VA-covered birth defects and other associated conditions.
The legacy of military service and sacrifice can take the shape of homeownership through programs outside of a VA loan. The Chapter 6 Home Loan Guaranty is a federal home loan guaranty for veterans and their spouses, designed to help them purchase homes or refinance existing loans. While this benefit does not extend to surviving children of veterans or service members, a dependent child can help satisfy the program’s occupancy requirement.
How to Apply for Benefits
As the child of a military service member or veteran, receiving the help and assistance you qualify for means asking for that help. If you’re eligible, you must apply to receive your VA family member benefits. With the range of options and coverages designed to assist family members, there may be a program waiting to help you take the next step in your personal, financial or professional life.
Whether or not you qualify for one or several of the many programs designed to help the families of service members and veterans, you may still be facing financial hardships. If you have growing debt that you can’t seem to manage, it may be time to contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency, like InCharge Debt Solutions. Their counselors are trained and required to offer advice that’s in your best interest, meaning you will see all the best options for getting your budget, finances and debt in check.
About The Author
Craig Richardson is a military veteran who started his journalism career while serving in the Navy. Following overseas deployments to the Med and Middle East, including service in Operation Desert Storm, he left for the private sector but continued with journalism. He has worked for several publishers and news organizations over nearly 30 years and continued to cover stories with ties to veterans and military affairs throughout his career.
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