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Survivors & dependents assistance (DEA)

The Survivors & Dependents Assistance (DEA) program provides the opportunity for many military spouses and dependents to get a post-secondary education. If eligible, spouses and dependents may use DEA benefits in either a brick-and-mortar classroom setting or at an online school for:

  • College degree programs
  • Trade, technical, licensure or certification training
  • On-the-job training/apprenticeships
  • Correspondence courses
  • Cooperative training
  • Overseas programs (leading toward a college degree).

Qualifying for DEA benefits

For survivors and dependents to qualify, the sponsoring veteran must have passed away or be rated totally and permanently disabled due to a service-connected event. Servicemembers who are listed as missing in action, prisoners of war or held by a foreign force all also qualify. For the purpose of the program, a child is considered dependent if he or she is under the age of 26, a biological relative, adopted relative or a legally adopted step-child.

Survivors & dependents assistance (DEA) highlights

The program provides up to 45 months of entitlement for eligible dependents between the ages of 18 and 26, and they must remain in school to draw benefits. Military service of the dependent stops benefits for as long as the child is on active duty. Benefits may resume after discharge, providing the discharge was not under dishonorable conditions. If the child voluntarily served in the military during a period between ages 18 and 26, program eligibility can be extended up to eight years, but not beyond the child's 31st birthday. If recalled to active duty after September 10, 2001, eligibility may be extended for four months plus the duration of the deployment. In this situation, the eligibility extension is authorized past the individual's 31st birthday.

Certain uncontrollable events may also extend the benefit period, such as:

  1. Called into missionary service.
  2. Not able to attend classes due to family or financial obligations.
  3. Unexpected change in employment, such as a transfer to another company location.
  4. A death or debilitating family illness or long-term personal illness.

Marrying while drawing benefits does not affect dependents program eligibility. For a spouse, Survivors & Dependents Assistance (DEA) benefits normally terminate 10 years from the date of eligibility, unless the sponsor dies while on active duty. Then eligibility continues for 20 years from the sponsor's death, until benefits are exhausted, or remarriage of the spouse before age 57. If older than 57, then benefits continue until the benefit is exhausted, the spouse graduates or quits school.

If a sponsor is listed as missing in action, a prisoner of war or detained by a foreign power, spouse eligibility begins on the 91st day after the sponsor's official status is declared and ends 10 years later. Should the sponsor be found or released, eligibility ends immediately. Benefits may continue for up to 12 weeks or until the end of the term, whichever occurs first.

Benefit application procedures

As in any VA-benefit program, the first step in using the education benefits is determining if the school is VA-approved. Next, submit VA Form 22-5490 or download the form, fill it out and mail it to the VA Regional Office listed as having jurisdiction over the school's location.

Full-time students in a college degree or non-degree program receive $936 per month. For less than full-time students, benefits are prorated proportionally. For example, a half-time student receives half of the $936 amount per month. One month of benefit is used up for each $936 amount paid out. A full-time student uses one month of benefit for each month of school, while a half-time student only uses one month of benefit every two months.

Apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs qualify for a different amount of benefits. These programs qualify for $682 per month for the first six months, and then the benefit amount incrementally drops during each successive 6-month period. The amount students learn during each 6-month period should increase their earning potential, thereby offsetting the decreased benefit amount. Benefits provided by the Survivors & Dependents Assistance (DEA) program provide a spouse or dependent child with enough education assistance to earn a four-year degree. Granted, the benefit does not cover all education-related expenses, but it does help provide an opportunity to learn a trade or prepare to enter a career--an opportunity many spouses or children might otherwise not have had.