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Should I Use the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance Program, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, or Both?

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: Should I use DEA, Post 9/11 GI Bill, or both? My first husband died on active duty in 2004 making me eligible for Dependents Educational Assistance (DEA). I remarried an active-duty soldier (suspending my eligibility for DEA) in 2006. I am now divorcing and my soon to be ex-husband may transfer all 36 months of his Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to me. After I am divorced I will regain eligibility for DEA. So my questions are: 1. Can I use DEA at the same time? 2. Can I use DEA in part or in full after using the GI Bill? Some sources say only a certain number of benefits may be used in total. But these two programs are not administered by the same agency, correct? So perhaps this does not apply. So, if I use the GI bill in full, how much if any of the DEA benefit can I use afterwards? 3. If I can’t use the DEA after or concurrently with the GI bill should I just use my DEA and not take the GI Bill transfer at all? Or is the GI Bill benefit so superior that I should use this benefit if at all possible? 4. Do I have to wait until my ex-husband is no longer on active duty to be eligible for the housing allowance?

A: All great questions and I will answer them in the order asked. No you can’t use two GI Bills at the same time. Under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance Program (DEA) you would be authorized up to 44 months of benefits along with an additional 36 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill transferred benefits, however with the Rule of 48 if you qualify for two or more GI Bills, the maximum number of combined months of benefits is capped at 48 months.

To answer question two, yes, but we have to define what you mean by in full or in part. Yes you can use DEA in full after you use the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and while your would get the full DEA payment each month, it would be only for the number of months it would take you to get to 48 after using up 36 Post 9/11 GI Bill months.

Question 3 – If you had to choose which one to use, I would recommend the Post 9/11 GI Bill and here is why. Currently, the DEA pays $987 per month to go to school full-time. Out of that amount, you have to pay all your own tuition, fees, books, etc. Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the VA would pay your tuition directly to your school, and you would get a monthly housing allowance based on the zip code of your school and the number of credits you are taking. On average, a full-time student gets about $1,300 per month.

Plus you would get a book stipend once each semester (up to the $1,000 yearly limit) of $41.67 per credit which for a 12-credit semester is another $500. If you do the math, you can see how the Post 9/11 GI Bill is more lucrative.

The answer to question 4 is no, you would not have to wait until your ex-husband is out of the military to collect Post 9/11 GI Bill housing allowance. Once the divorce is final, send a copy of your divorce decree to the VA. That should trigger your housing allowance if you are (or will be) using the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

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