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Who is Eligible for Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA)

To be eligible for Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) benefits you must be the spouse, son or daughter (includes step-children and adopted children) of a veteran who either dies on active duty or dies of a service related injury or disability resulting from active duty. Spouses and children of permanently and totally disabled Veterans due to active service are also eligible for DEA benefits. The last category eligible for DEA benefits relates to service members who are captured by enemy forces, including those that are missing in action and presumed dead or captured in the line of duty or held by a hostile nation against their will. Eligibility has now been expanded to include the spouse or children of a person whom the VA has determined has a service-connected permanent disability, is a member of the military receiving medical care and is likely to be discharged from service due to this disability.

There are time restrictions that impact your eligibility for DEA benefits. As a spouse or surviving spouse, you have 10 years from the date the VA finds you DEA eligible or the date of death to use the benefits. In cases of disability, this 10-year limit starts either when the veteran receives their permanent and total disability evaluation or when the VA notifies the veteran of this evaluation. You may also choose which date you want to use for the purposes of DEA benefits. 

A change was enacted in 2008 extending the time allowed to collect benefits up to 20 years after the VA has rated your veteran totally and permanently disabled, as long as this rating was applied within three years of the service member’s discharge. This change also affects spouses of deceased military as of December 10, 2004. If your loved one is deceased and your ten-year eligibility period began before this date, it can be extended for another 10 years. However, the government will only pay for training that occurred after December 10, 2004.

If your service member was rated totally and permanently disabled and then died from his disability or from complications related to the disability, your eligibility period starts at the time of death and is in effect lengthened.

As a spouse whose veteran is a prisoner of war or missing, your 10-year period starts on the 91st day after the date the he or she is listed as missing or captive. Your eligibility for DEA benefits ends when your soldier is returned or determined to be alive unless you are already enrolled, in which case the benefits will be extended to the end of the term.

In cases of divorce, if the divorce is of your choosing your eligibility ends on the date of your divorce. If the veteran instigates the divorce, you may be able to extend your DEA benefits. There are many other extensions that will also extend your DEA benefits eligibility period. You need to apply for them on a case-by-case basis. If you remarry before the age of 57, your eligibility for DEA benefits ends. In some cases if this second marriage ends your DEA benefits can be reinstated. If you remarry after age 57, you may still be eligible to receive your DEA benefits from your first spouse.

As a son or daughter of a veteran meeting the eligibility requirements for DEA, you can receive benefits from age 18-26. In special circumstances the age limit can be decreased or increased until the age of 31. Unlike a spouse, your eligibility is not affected by marriage. You can have your eligibility period extended for various reasons, especially if those reasons are beyond your control such as illness or death in the family. If your eligibility ends while you are mid-course, you can usually get your benefits extended to the end of term.

Neither spouses nor children who are also on active duty in the military can receive DEA benefits. Leaving the military with a dishonorable discharge will make you ineligible for military benefits. Generally, you can extend your eligibility period to receive DEA benefits for eight years after your release from active duty. If you were called to duty after 9/11/2001 your DEA eligibility can be extended by the amount of time you were on active duty plus four months. If you are a son or daughter, it is very difficult to get DEA benefits extended past your 31st birthday.

If you are eligible for DEA benefits you could easily be eligible for other veteran benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) or other educational assistance programs. You cannot receive benefits from more than one program at a time. It’s a good idea to sit down with a counselor at your local VA or at the VA Regional Office to design a personalized plan that will guide you through the DEA benefits process and other VA benefits. The VA is there for people just like you and with all the rules, restrictions, extensions and exceptions it is a good idea to have some help.

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