5 General Program Requirements for Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance

Key Qualifications to Determine DEA Eligibility

  • Direct Family Connection to Veteran
  • Determination of Death or Disability
  • Service Member is Missing or Captured
  • Limitations on Child Applications
  • Considerations for Spouse Eligibility

The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) initiative is a broad federal program that supports the families of dead or disabled service members. Applicants must meet several general program requirements to be considered eligible and there are some limitations on how long eligible individuals have access to the benefits. Eligible recipients of financial assistance through DEA may use it to pursue a number of educational opportunities, including specialized vocational training.

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1. Direct Family Connection to Veteran

Financial assistance through the DEA program is only available to direct relatives of qualifying veterans. Currently this only includes spouses and children, although both adopted and step-children can apply for benefits. The US Department of Veterans Affairs oversees the education program for survivors and dependents, so prospective applicants should check their website for the latest rules or regulations regarding eligibility.

2. Determination of Death or Disability

A veteran only qualifies their family for DEA benefits if they are killed or disabled as a result of their work in the military. This includes fatalities in combat as well as health conditions caused by any duties related to their service, including exposure to toxins or other environmental hazards. Family members can designate a living veteran if they have been rated for a total service-connected disability, which usually results in their discharge from the military, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

3. Service Member is Missing or Captured

Spouses and children are also considered eligible if their related service member is classified as missing in action (MIA) or has been captured while performing their duties. Applicants may be eligible if the veteran has been taken as a prisoner of war or if they have been otherwise forcibly detained for more than 90 days. In these cases, the eligibility period officially begins the day after the veteran received their status classification.

4. Limitations on Child Applications

Most child beneficiaries must be between the ages of 18 and 26, although there are some exceptions that allow the benefits to start earlier or end later depending on individual circumstances. For example, the window may be extended for applicants who can prove that their training or education was disrupted by circumstances outside of their control. Current members of the US military are currently not eligible to receive DEA benefits, although they may qualify for educational assistance through another program.

5. Considerations for Spouse Eligibility

Most spouses of qualifying service members are eligible for a 10-year period that begins when their partner was officially evaluated and rated by the VA. These benefits typically end immediately if the spouse becomes divorced from the veteran, although certain conditions allow for exemptions to this rule. Eligible spouse recipients can continue to receive benefits from a deceased veteran even if they get remarried, although they will still end after 10 years.

The DEA is just one of the ways that the US government supports families of veterans who were permanently injured or killed as a result of their service. Eligible individuals should seriously consider applying for benefits through the VA’s Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program to help fund their academic pursuits or occupational training.