Why Don’t Military Widows Get Full Educational Benefits?


We military spouses duly learn to dread the knock at the door.  The folded flag.  The long, strange, dark trip through the thousand things a widow or widower must do if a servicemember is killed in the line of duty.  Does worrying about paying for college tuition really have to be one of those things?

This week my colleague Terry Howell (King of Military Benefits) sent me a story about how military widows don’t qualify for educational benefits from the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Their kids do.  Which is really helpful if you are the parent of a one year old and a four year old when you lose your beloved.

I didn’t know that widows don’t qualify for that benefit.  Why ever not?  This is just one more worry to keep military spouses up at night.

Because even though we know that the military takes care of its own, the truth is that when you are a young military widow, life is long.  Survivor benefits like SGLI are generous, yet they are designed to help you get on your feet so that you can step up and become the breadwinner.

Becoming the sole breadwinner is doable, but daunting—even for people who are not stricken with grief.  The truth is that many widows and widowers do not have the educational background required to support themselves and their children.  Many have spent years out of the workforce in order to serve as stay home parents because that was what was best for their military family.

So when these people lose their beloved, they will probably have to retool. Yet their ability to go back to school and retrain is limited.  Under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance (SDEA) program, spouses of the fallen are only eligible to receive federal education benefits.  This program does not cover the full cost of tuition and fees although it does provide a small stipend.

Widows do not qualify for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.  That doesn’t seem right to me.  That doesn’t seem right to a lot of people.  That is why Senator Jeff Merkley has proposed the Spouses of Heroes Education Act.

Under Senator Merkley’s bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill would be amended to include spousal eligibility for families of service members who died on active duty. Spouses of these service members could receive the full cost of public, in-state undergraduate tuition and fees, plus a monthly living stipend and book allowance.

This change would not cost the taxpayer much.  There are just about 3000 military widows of OEF and OIF. Many of them are already self-supporting.  Many of them already have degrees.  Not all of them would welcome a chance to go back to college.

Some of them would.  More important is the knowledge that they could.  I’m not asking for a handout for military widows.  I’m asking for the loopholes to be plugged with a little logic.  So that we all sleep a little better at night.



About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.

16 Comments on "Why Don’t Military Widows Get Full Educational Benefits?"

  1. MOST have-not/ did-not add Value – that "EARNED" ANY benefits there are some, few, EXceptions to this!

  2. I am not sure what you are trying to say disgusted. Are you saying that most have not earned this? I am confused.

  3. There's more to the story | November 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |

    There are COUNTLESS organizations and state benefits, funds, ect out there to benefit Gold Star Wives as well as Silver Star families. It takes some research and dedication like everything else but the funds are available everywhere.

  4. Use the money you got from his insurance. Everyone wants something for nothing.

    • Amy_Bushatz | November 3, 2012 at 9:58 am |

      Is the loss of your spouse really nothing? Wow.

    • Not every widow receives the insurance, or all of it. Get your facts straight before speaking. In my case, my husband divided the insurance in half, between myself and our kids, and his family. I bought a home that was big enough for each child to have their own room and had nothing left over. I don't know where people get the idea that we are rolling around in cash on our living room floors. Many of us are struggling, and paying out of pocket for school only makes it that much harder. I was forced to pay out of pocket and be reimbursed for school and many times they didn't give me what they were supposed to. Even when they did I was still required to pay a good amount of my own money. It is not always cut and dry like people believe.

    • Your an idiot, these are Job Benefits, and something for nothing the insurance comes form someone loosing their life… Ass Clown…

  5. If you want the benefits, pls talk with your local military recruiter. I'm sure that he/she will be more than happy to help you complete your application for military service.

    I completed 14 yrs prior to med. sep while my spouce retired after 22 yrs.

  6. Gretchen Noelle | November 6, 2012 at 7:34 pm |

    I personally know of a widow currently going to college on her husband's GI Bill after he was KIA. I don't know all the details but "Chapter 35" sounds familiar…

  7. I understands how this feels, I feel we serve as well being a military wife you do uniforms, kids, cooking shopping, loving, and making sure everyones happy, and their stress form work or school. When they are deployed worst, I was pregnant, when my husband was deployed, then he comes home, sent to pt, sat on curb complained of hurting and was told to get up keep running and other soldiers run at same pace, sat down second time and had a heart attack and died. We recieved no gratuity no insurance I was never warned to get a back up plan, had a little baby had to go apply for assistance, now Im going to school, and I do have to pay for my own classes and books I get some back but I dont qaulify for alot. Went to his brother wich partyied it away with in a year offered no one nothing. WE had no rent no nothing people …

  8. We now recieve some benifits pension s.s. so forth. Looking into some scholarships I have been told may help trying to insure your familes future is alot on a person believe me…

  9. I believe you are misinformed Doug. I am the surviving spouse of a 100% permanently and totally disabled Vietnam veteran whose death was directly related to his combat experience. He was rated at 100% P&T for 8 years, residing in a long term VA contract nursing home when he died 23 September 2008. Yes, there are still soldiers dying due to combat some 45+ years later. I am eligible for DEA/CH 35…10 years from his date of death. I would receive $987 a month for the months that I attend school if I am a full time student (12 hours or more). This is approximately $8883 per year, about half of the benefit under Post 9-11 educational benefit. Would not call this a "full ride". There is NO stipend for a living allowance nor a stipend for books and supplies. The only recent change I have seen, besides the COLA, is that benefits will be for 81 months instead of 45 months (effective in late 2013). There is a big difference between DEA/CH 35 and Post 9-11 educational benefits. Equity for all surviving spouses is overdue. But being the spouse of a 100% P&T disabled veteran doesn't get the spouse more educational benefits before his death than after.

  10. Doug I agree alos that you have some misleding information, I took the ride of using the benefits of a 100% disable vet. and it only give you 987.00 a month for being a full time stuent. God forbid don't drop a class they take that money back the next couple of months. I just completed my BA degree. Now i hve a student loan. This program is good but you would think they would offer us more as a widor. I do find that the children of a 100% disable Vet gets a little more. My daughter is receiving 987.00 a month and 75% scholarship paid by the Goverment it is a 100% disable vet program all you have to do is remain with a 2.00 GPA , first come first served until the funds a completed.

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