What Financial Aid Is Available for Military Families?

Spouses and children in military families are eligible for some specific provisions of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, in addition to all the traditional forms of federal student aid. The Machine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship, or Fry Scholarship for short, and the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA) are available exclusively to military spouses and dependents.

The Fry Scholarship

This form of student aid is available to the children and spouses of active-duty service members who died in the line of duty after Sept. 10, 2001. You can receive payments for up to 36 months, and if you are eligible for the full amount of benefits, you can receive an amount equal to 100 percent of in-state tuition and fees at a public institution of higher education.

Fry funds for tuition and fees go directly to the school, but up to $1,000 per year can go directly to the student for books and supplies, along with a monthly housing allowance. This scholarship can be used for traditional higher education, but it’s also available for apprenticeships, flight training, tutoring, work-study, and more.

Children become eligible for this aid on their 18th birthday or graduation from high school, whichever comes first. They remain eligible until their 33rd birthday regardless of marital status. Spouses are eligible to use the benefit up until the 15th anniversary of the death of the service member, unless they remarry, which terminates eligibility.

To apply for the Fry Scholarship:

  1. Use the GI Bill Comparison Tool to determine if your school and educational program are eligible
  2. The application is the Dependents Application for VA Education BenefitsVA Form 22-5490. Follow the instructions and send it to the Regional Processing Office that serves the state where you plan to go to school, not your state of residence. Minors will need a parent or guardian to sign.
  3. If you’ve already started classes, it’s not too late. You can turn in your application to the school. They can then submit VA Form 22-1999 or VA-ONCE, which is an enrollment certification, to the Veterans Administration (VA).


DEA benefits go directly to the student and are available to the sons, daughters, and spouses of veterans who:

  • are/were permanent and totally disabled due to a condition related to active-duty military service
  • died on active duty
  • died from a service-related condition
  • is receiving inpatient or outpatient treatment for a service-related disability that is likely to lead to discharge from the armed services

To qualify for benefits from the DEA, sons, and daughters must be between 18 and 26 years old. You can be married or single, but you cannot be on active duty or dishonorably discharged. If you are in the military, your DEA eligibility is extended by the length of time you are on active duty up to your 31st birthday.

For spouses, benefits are available for 10 years after you become eligible or from the date of death of the veteran. An exception is made for the spouses of veterans who became disabled within three years of their discharge. Those spouses are eligible for DEA benefits for 20 years from the date of the disability. Spouses of service members who died on active duty are eligible for 20 years from that date.

You can use DEA benefits for approved educational programs including apprenticeships and on-the-job training. It pays up to 45 months of benefits is most cases, and up to 81 months under certain circumstances. Benefits vary depending on the type of program you’re enrolled in.

The process of applying for DEA benefits is the same as the application process for the Fry scholarship.

If you qualify for DEA benefits, there are some other forms of assistance that you may also receive:

  • Special Restorative Training helps you overcome a disability to pursue higher education. Medical care and psychiatric treatment are not covered.
  • Special Vocational Training is for those who don’t need special restorative training but do need accommodation for a mental or physical disability.

What If I Qualify for Both?

If you qualify for both the Fry Scholarship and DEA benefits, you have to choose between the two. Your decision is final and cannot be changed later. Dependents cannot qualify for both programs based on the same event, like the death of a service member in the line of duty, unless that death was before Aug. 1, 2011. Even in that case, they cannot be used concurrently and benefits end after 81 months of full-time study.

Other Available Financial Aid

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: In addition to these two parts of the GI Bill, the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant is available for students whose parent or guardian died as a result of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan after Sept 11, 2001. To qualify, you must have been less than 24 years old or enrolled at least part-time in an educational program at the time of the parent’s death. You must be ineligible for a Pell Grant because your EFC is too high. The maximum benefit is equal to the maximum award under the Pell Grant.

Federal Pell Grant: If you do not meet the requirements for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant but do qualify for a Pell Grant, then your EFC is set at zero so you get the maximum Pell Grant. This also increases your eligibility for other forms of student aid.

State Veteran Benefits: Some states offer additional benefits for the dependents and spouses of service members. Visit the veteran’s service office or website for your state to find more details.

The Department of Defense is collaborating with the Department of Education and Veterans Affairs to propose student loan benefits for military families. The benefit exempts members of the military from paying interest for up to 60 months on certain student loans while serving or having served in an area that qualifies them to receive hostile fire or imminent danger pay.

How do I qualify for the student loan benefit?

Eligible active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members and veterans can use this benefit to avoid student loan interest.

If you want to know if you’re eligible for this benefit, follow the guidelines below:

  1. Check your loan type and servicer by logging in to “My Federal Student Aid” at StudentAid.gov/login.
  2. You should contact your loan servicer to find out how to provide any of the following forms of proof like:
  • A leave and earnings statement showing receipt of hostile fire or imminent danger pay.
  • A certifying official statement and signature.
  • Military orders showing service in a hostile area.

If you are a spouse or dependent of a service member and you’re planning for higher education, be sure to check into these avenues for financial aid and more. This is one way the United States recognizes the contributions and sacrifices of military families in service to the country.