The VA’s Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program at a Glance

Considering the rapidly increasing cost of college, it’s more important now than ever that veterans and their dependents understand and utilize the benefits that they have earned. The VA’s Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program or Chapter 35 is one such benefit that all eligible dependents should utilize. The program offers monthly payments for education and training to eligible veteran dependents. Dependents can receive benefits for:

  • College
  • Certificate programs
  • Apprenticeship programs
  • Disabled spouses and children over the age of 14 may receive special training to lessen or overcome impairments

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Eligible dependents can receive up to 45 months of benefits
  • Benefits are offered for degree programs, certificate programs, apprenticeships or on-the-job training programs, preparatory courses, and special therapeutic training
  • To be eligible, you must be the dependent of a veteran who (1) died or is totally disabled due to a service-connected disability, (2) died while on active duty, or (3) was declared missing in action or captured in the line of duty
  • Spouses usually have 10 years from the date of eligibility to use their benefits; but, if the veteran was rated permanently and totally disabled within 3 years from discharge, eligibility is 20 years. If you are a surviving spouse, you also have 20 years of eligibility
  • Dependent children must use their benefits between 18 and 26 (with exceptions)
  • The current monthly benefit for full-time attendance at an institution is $1,265

Who is Eligible?

To be eligible for Chapter 35, you must be the child or spouse of a veteran who (1) died or is totally disabled due to a service-connected disability, (2) died while on active duty, or (3) was declared missing in action, or captured in the line of duty.

Depending on when you began using your benefits, you may have up to 45 or 36 months of benefits (Before August 1st, 2018).

Note: If you are a California resident, you may qualify for the CalVet Tuition Waiver. However, you cannot use Chapter 35 concurrently with the Plan A Tuition Waiver (Read about the CalVet Tuition Waiver here).

How Long Do You Have to Use the Benefit?

Generally, spouses will have 10 years from the date of eligibility to use their benefits; however, if the veteran was rated permanently and totally disabled within 3 years from discharge, the spouse remains eligible for 20 years. Additionally, if you are a surviving spouse, you also have 20 years of eligibility.

On the other hand, if you are a dependent child, you must use your benefits between age 18 and 26 (with exceptions).

Note: Unlike spouses, if you are a dependent child, marriage does not affect your eligibility. 

How Much is the benefit?

The benefit amount is based on the type of training program and training time (i.e., full-time, half-time, etc.). Hence, if attendance status is less than full-time, payments are reduced proportionately. The monthly benefits are paid directly to the student, with the current monthly payment for full-time attendance at an institution at $1,265 (2020) (VA’s 2020 Pay Rates)

Note: Do not confuse the DEA program for the Fry Scholarship. You may qualify for both, but you will need to make a decision on which benefit to use, as you are limited to one (yup there’s an exception).

Final Thoughts

Given the rapidly rising college costs, the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program can be a valuable part of your college funding plan. When utilizing this benefit, ensure the program of interest is eligible and that you are aware of any tradeoffs that may need to be made between other benefits (CalVet Tuition Waiver and Fry Scholarship). Planning for your child’s education can be complicated, and ideally, you’ll start early to ensure you can utilize every tool at your disposal. Additionally, you should contact your local Veteran Affairs office and visit the VA’s website to learn more about your benefits. If you do not feel confident in creating a college funding plan on your own, or if you would like an expert opinion, you should consult with a qualified financial planner.

Author: Jose Armenta, MsBA, ChFC®, EA

Jose Armenta is a financial planner who writes about Federal Government employee benefits in a way that is easy to understand.

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