GI Bill Education Benefits Expanded

GI Bill Education Benefits Expanded

The Department of Veterans Affairs will begin accepting applications for college scholarships for surviving spouses of service members who died in the line of duty. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Senate veterans’ committee chairman,  worked hard to get the provision in the recently-passed veterans bill. He urged all eligible spouses to take advantage of it.

Until the law was changed this summer, the Post 9/11 GI Bill had offered scholarships to children of those who died in the line of duty but not their widows or widowers. Now, eligible spouses may be entitled to full tuition for up to 36 months plus a stipend to cover the cost of housing, books and supplies.

Sanders included the scholarship provision in the VA reform bill at the urging of the Gold Star Wives of America, an organization formed during World War II to provide support for the spouses and children of those who lost their lives. “For the spouses of those who gave their lives to defend this country, this educational benefit will provide significant help in allowing them to move forward.  I hope all eligible spouses will think about taking advantage of it.” he said.

Applications will be accepted by mail beginning on Nov. 3.

The Fry scholarship program was created to honor Army Sgt. John David Fry. The Texas native had one week left in his tour in Iraq in 2006, when he volunteered for a mission to disarm explosive devices. He lost his life when a device detonated. He left behind a widow and three young children. 

In addition to the Fry scholarships, some spouses also may qualify for help under a separate Dependents’ Educational Assistance program. Those eligible for both programs have until Jan. 1 to select which program is best for them.

The VA will help identify spouses eligible for both programs and send them a letter comparing the benefits and explaining how to select which program is best for them. Information also will be on the GI Bill website (www.benefits.va.gov/gibill). The VA call center (888-GIBILL-1) also will be able to help individuals understand the differences between the two programs.