Military education benefits are not just for active service members; they are also available to veterans who served in a branch of the military and their dependents. As families begin the college search and financial aid processes, families need to be aware of these military education benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), approximately 79 percent of veterans who enrolled in a college or university during the 2018 fiscal year received benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This means that more service members are pursuing higher education and taking advantage of VA benefits than ever before. Those who have either previously served or are currently serving and are thinking about pursuing a college degree likely qualify for several institutional or governmental education awards. Below is a detailed list that outlines the VA education benefits available to veterans, their dependents, and their spouses.
Types of Financial Aid Available to Veterans and Their Dependents
So, what benefits do veterans and veteran dependents get? Significant financial aid is available for veterans and military dependents, including the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program, the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) Program, and branch-specific aid and loans.
The VA provides benefits to veterans and their dependents under what is known as the GI Bill to help these individuals get the training and education they require to remain competitive in the job market. The program informs veterans of training and education opportunities for which they may be eligible and provides funds for housing, tuition, and fees. There are two versions of the GI Bill: the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Montgomery GI Bill
The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) is a federally funded, multimillion-dollar program designed to help veterans and their dependents with life after the military. While the largest portion of the budget is geared toward education benefits, the legislation also provides housing benefits, healthcare and medical benefits, and other benefits that apply specifically to veterans, their spouses, and children. The MGIB features two subcategories, including one for selected reservists (MGIB-SR) and one for active-duty service members (MGIB-AD). The MGIB-SR is for reservists with a six-year obligation, while the MGIB-AD is for honorably discharged veterans and active-duty members who entered after June 30, 1985. To be eligible, these individuals must have served a minimum of two years and paid an enrollment fee of $100 a month for 12 months. They are then entitled to a monthly education benefit once they complete their service obligations. The payment amount varies depending on the length of service and the type of education or training chosen. Benefits are paid for a maximum of 36 months and can be used to cover the cost of education, books, housing, and other fees associated with their college degrees.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
Service members who have served a minimum of 90 days of active duty since September 10, 2001 as well as those who were honorably discharged or discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days are entitled to receive benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Depending on the service member’s length of service, the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers a minimum of 40 percent up to 100 percent of tuition, housing, and, in some cases, relocation. An annual stipend of up to $1,000 may be available for students to put toward books and supplies. Purple Heart recipients, regardless of how long they served, are automatically qualified for Post-9/11 benefits at the 100 percent level. The benefits are provided for a maximum of 36 months of postsecondary education. Service members may choose to transfer a portion or all of their benefits to eligible dependents, including their spouse, children, or a combination of spouse and child. The U.S. Department of Defense is responsible for determining whether or not a service member can transfer benefits to his or her family.
Yellow Ribbon Program
As discussed, the Post-9/11 GI Bill may cover up to 100 percent of in-state tuition and fees for full-time students attending a public postsecondary institution. However, students who wish to attend an international or private college or enroll at an out-of-state school may find their benefits limited and that the GI Bill will not cover all of their tuition costs. To account for this difference, the Post-9/11 GI Bill implements a provision known as the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Specifically, to qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program, a veteran must have served for a minimum of 36 months after September 10, 2001, be eligible at the 100 percent benefit level, and have either been honorably discharged or served a minimum of 30 consecutive days before being discharged with a service-related disability. As is the case under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, children and spouses may also be eligible so long as they are candidates for a Transfer of Entitlement and the veteran is qualified to take advantage of the benefits provided by the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program
Offered under the Montgomery GI Bill, the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA) was specifically developed for dependents, including children and spouses, of service members who are captured or missing, who have disabilities as a result of their service, or who have died. Students who began to use this program before August 1, 2018 are entitled to up to 45 months of benefits, while those who applied after this date can receive educational benefits for 36 months. Spousal benefits begin on the date of the veteran’s death or on the date the spouse qualifies and last for 10 years.
The specific amount of financial aid applicants receive depends on the courseload they undertake while pursuing their college degree. For instance, the per-month 2020-2021 academic year rates for higher education are:
- Quarter-time student or less: $306 per month
- Greater than quarter-time student: $710
- Half-time student: $710
- Three-quarter-time student: $967
- Full-time student: $1,224
Benefits are sent every month and help to cover the cost of undergraduate or graduate degree programs, educational and career counseling, career-training certificate courses, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training.
Non-Government, Branch-Specific Aid and Loans
The U.S. military branches implement several service-specific, privately funded programs that help the dependents of veterans who served in those branches. Each branch offers financial aid options for postsecondary education for children and/or spouses of service members. Keep in mind that each type of aid has specific requirements regarding eligibility that prospective students should consider before applying.
U.S. Coast Guard: Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Program
iEstablished in 1969, the Coast Guard Foundation (CGF) is a nonprofit, private organization that provides relief, support, and education for the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard, their spouses, and children. The Coast Guard Mutual Assistance program provides help with Stafford Loans, a supplemental education grant, and interest-free loans for up to $2,000 that students can use for tuition, fees, books, room, and board. For example, the Lisa Cook Reed Spouse Education Scholarship program is intended to help non-military spouses study at an accredited institution, while the Fallen Heroes Scholarship covers 100 percent of the highest education expenses for undergraduate children of fallen Coast Guard members.
U.S. Air Force: Air Force Aid Society
Established in 1942, the Air Force Aid Society (AFAS) is a nonprofit, private organization that provides financial aid to children and spouses of active-duty and veteran members of the U.S. Air Force. Three types of education assistance are available from the AFAS:
- The Supplemental Education Loan Program: A no-interest loan for a maximum of $1,000 that eligible full-time dependent undergraduate students can use to pay for tuition, room, and board.
- The AFAS Merit Aid Scholarship: The AFAS awards a minimum of 10 of these scholarships, each worth $5,000, to freshmen each year. Eligible candidates include dependent children and spouses of retired and active-duty Airmen who demonstrate outstanding academic potential based on their grade-point averages (GPAs).
- The General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program: A need-based, highly competitive program that provides grants of $500 to $4,000 per academic year to eligible spouses and children of deceased, veteran, and active-duty members of the U.S. Air Force.
U.S. Navy/Marines: Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
Established in 1904, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) is a nonprofit, private organization that offers financial aid to eligible family members of retired and active-duty Marine Corp and Navy service members. The education programs provided by the NMCRS help those who hold at least a 2.0 GPA to pursue their first undergraduate degrees.
The Spouse Tuition Aid Program (STAP) is an interest-free loan of up to $3,000 per 12-month period that eligible students can use to pay for tuition, fees, and books. To qualify, the spouse must reside with an active-duty Marine Corps or Navy service member outside of the 50 United States, be a full-time or part-time undergraduate or graduate student, and be enrolled at an accredited college or university. The Vice Admiral E.P. Travers Loan Program is another financial aid option is an interest-free loan that ranges from $500 to $3,000 per academic year. Funds can be used for tuition, fees, books, room, and board.
U.S. Army: Army Emergency Relief
Established in 1942, Army Emergency Relief (AER) is a nonprofit, private organization dedicated to helping veterans and their dependents. AER provides several education assistance programs, that aim to guide widow(er)s and spouses of soldiers who are looking to further their education.
Formerly known as the Spouse Education Assistance Program (SEAP), the Mrs. Patty Shinseki Spouse Scholarship Program is a need-based financial aid option designed to help spouses of Army soldiers obtain an undergraduate degree. Award amounts vary each year based on the average cost of attendance, the applicant’s financial status, the total approved scholarship budget, and the number of applicants. For the 2018-2019 academic year, awards ranged from $500 to $2,200.
The AER also offers the MG James Ursano Scholarship Program for Dependent Children to children of Army soldiers who are looking to earn their first bachelor’s degree. Awards also vary based on the factors mentioned above and ranged from $500 to $3,400 for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Many states offer educational benefits to family members of veterans, particularly for the children of disabled, Prisoner of War (POW), Missing in Action (MIA), and deceased veterans. When it comes to state-provided benefits, it is important to do thorough research on options that are available either through the U.S. Military or in the student’s respective state.
Through the New York State Higher Education Services (HESC), the state of New York offers the Regents Award for Children of Deceased & Disabled Veterans that provides $450 to eligible candidates each year for a maximum of five years to help with their college expenses. To receive this award, applicants must be children of an MIA/POW, disabled, or deceased veteran parent who served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs offers educational assistance for war orphans, including up to $750 per year to be used for tuition, supplied, books, room, and board. Children of deceased veterans may also be entitled to free tuition for an undergraduate program at the University of Minnesota and other public in-state colleges and universities. To be eligible, applicants must have a deceased veteran parent that passed due to a service-related condition and have been a Minnesota resident for the two years before applying for benefits.
The Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs offers a waiver of undergraduate tuition and fees at the University of Alaska and other state-supported educational institutions physically located within Alaska. Applicants must be dependents or spouses of U.S. Armed Services members who are listed as MIA/POW by the U.S. Department of Defense, who died as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty, or who died in the line of duty.
Private institutions and local governments may also provide veterans’ and disabled veterans’ education benefits and scholarships for eligible military dependents. Due to the sheer number of available programs, prospective students must conduct thorough research before submitting an application to further supplement their financial aid.
Many independent agencies and organizations provide scholarships to veterans and military dependents, including the Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship, the Defense Commissary Agency, and the ThanksUSA scholarship program.
The Joanne Patton Military Spouse Scholarship, sponsored by the National Military Family Association (NMFA), grants scholarships that range from $500 to $1,000 to the spouses of reserve/guard, retired, and active-duty service members. The scholarships may be used for tuition fees, room, and board for surviving military spouses looking to attend postsecondary or graduate school or to obtain professional certification.
The Defense Commissary Agency sponsors the Military Children Program that was created in recognition of the contributions of military families to the U.S. fighting forces. The program, funded primarily through the generosity of suppliers and manufacturers whose products are sold at military commissaries, provides scholarships to applicants who are full-time students at a university or college with at least a 3.0 GPA. A minimum of one scholarship is awarded at each commissary location each year; additional scholarships may be awarded on a prorated basis depending on funding availability and the number of applicants. All applicants must be the children of active-duty, guard, reserve, veteran, or deceased military personnel.
ThanksUSA is a nonprofit, private organization that shows gratitude for those who have served in a branch of the U.S. military. Since 2006, ThanksUSA has awarded 4,700 scholarships valued at more than $15 million to recipients representing all branches of the military and from all 50 states. The organization provides scholarships of $3,000 to spouses and college-aged children of activated reservists, active-duty military personnel, and soldiers injured or killed in the line of duty. The funds can be used to pay for the cost of an undergraduate-level education at an accredited four- or two-year college. A 2.5 GPA is required for qualified applicants. ThanksUSA bases its award decisions on applicants’ academic performance, community service and leadership, and financial need. Those who have studied a foreign language may be given preference.
Why are Military Scholarships Valuable?
Although maybe not quite as popular as federal student aid options, scholarships are a fantastic idea for any student who is considering pursuing a college degree, regardless of whether he or she is a veteran or a dependent of a veteran. However, military scholarships are particularly important because they are designed to help veterans further their academic careers. Here is why veterans’ education benefits matter.
1. College is expensive.
Paying for college is one of the biggest purchases students will make. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average cost of tuition and fees, excluding room and board, for an in-state student attending a public college is just over $11,200 for the 2019-2020 academic year. Students looking to attend a private university or college can expect to shell out an average of more than $41,400 per year for tuition and fees.
2. Scholarships do not need to be repaid.
One of the most appealing aspects of scholarships for veterans’ dependents and veterans themselves is the fact that students do not need to repay them like they would loans. In other words, scholarships directly lower the cost of a college education instead of deferring it until after a student graduates and the time comes for him or her to pay for the education they obtained.
3. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has restrictions.
There is no doubt that the Post-9/11 GI Bill offers some of the best benefits and tuition assistance for veterans and the dependents of disabled veterans. In fact, many service members enlist in the military just so they can benefit from all the GI Bill has to offer. However, the GI Bill is far from perfect and has many limitations and restrictions. For example, students who take advantage of the GI Bill are only entitled to a maximum of four academic years of benefits, and they must use these benefits within 15 years from active service. Scholarships do not have these restrictions.
4. State budgets are shrinking.
According to recent statistics, states are spending less money on funding public colleges and universities. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that state funding for public two- and four-year colleges for the 2018 academic year was more than $6.6 billion less than 2008, after adjusting for inflation. In response to these funding cuts, colleges responded by increasing tuition, limiting course offerings, reducing faculty, and closing campuses. Scholarships can help bridge the gap between what a student can afford to pay and the increasing tuition rates.
5. Scholarships for veterans recognize their service.
Veterans who serve in any branch of the military make a significant sacrifice. Not only does serving detract from a service member’s goals and personal pursuits, but it may also sometimes result in emotional and physical trauma and injuries that can take many years to heal, if at all. Therefore, military scholarships are just one way that an organization can show its appreciation of the price veterans and their dependents have paid by serving.
6. Military scholarships are easier to obtain than traditional scholarships.
Since scholarships are a fantastic way to fund one’s education, it stands to reason that there is competition among students hoping to obtain one. In other words, the scholarship may be easier to get if fewer eligible applicants are competing for it. Since scholarships are only available to veterans and their dependents and not to just anyone, they may be easier to obtain than traditional scholarships.
7. A veteran’s service benefits his or her family members.
While veterans make sacrifices every day by serving their country, they are not the only ones who do so. Their children and spouses may go months or years without seeing or hearing from their spouse, mother, or father. Therefore, veterans’ and disabled veterans’ education benefits that help to reduce the cost of tuition for loved ones essentially acknowledges those who also made a sacrifice for their country.
8. Veterans can continue serving.
Many jobs in the public sector pay less than those in the private sector. Considering the number of school loans that many students take on, veterans who wish to continue serving their communities by working as teachers, first responders, or other occupations in the public sector may think of giving up their dream jobs to make more money. Since scholarships can either eliminate or greatly reduce these loans, veterans and their dependents have the financial freedom to select an occupation that they love without worrying about paying for their education while supporting their families.
Regardless of whether a student is a veteran, a spouse, or a child of a veteran, significant financial aid is available, including federal programs, branch-specific aid and loans, and private scholarships. To choose the best possible financial aid option, it is important to consider one’s academic goals and read over eligibility requirements carefully to ensure he or she will qualify before applying.
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