Military Benefits for Children: Legal Issues to Know
The children of U.S. military service members are eligible for a number of benefits including education benefits, health insurance, and survivor benefits. However, these benefits are contractually tied to your service obligation. If you’re dishonorably discharged or receive a bad conduct discharge, for example, you (and your family members) can lose virtually all of your benefits.
This article highlights five important military benefits for children, with links to government resources to help you take advantage of them. Visit FindLaw's Military Law section for related articles and resources.
GI Bill Transferability
Most people are aware of the "GI Bill," a popular education benefit available to military service members. But did you know that unused education benefits may be transferred to immediate family members? It's part of what has been called the "Post-9/11 GI Bill."
In order to qualify for this benefit, which applies to officers and enlisted service members, you must have had at least six years of service (active or reserve) and be obligated to serve at least four additional years. For example, an enlisted woman who has served seven years and is committed for another five years, may transfer her unused GI Bill benefits to her child. If you’re prevented from serving another four years by policy or statute, you can still qualify if you’ve served at least ten years and serve whatever time is left available to you under policy or statute. Keep in mind that only education benefits that you don’t use for yourself may be transferred.
See the Veterans' Online Application to apply remotely. Download the Dept. of Veteran Affair's Application for Family Member to Use Transferred Benefits (PDF) to apply through the U.S. mail.
Education Assistance Programs
Various education programs are available to immediate family members of service members in all five military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard). These include programs that ease the burdens on families that frequently relocate as well as grants and scholarship programs. Examples include:
- Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges: This program makes it easier for service members and their children to complete academic degrees by offering compatible programs at military bases and installations worldwide.
- Scholarships and Financial Assistance: List of federal grants, loans, and scholarships for service members (many of them available to children).
- Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS): Awards scholarships and loans ranging from $500 to $2,500, based on financial need.
Health Insurance Coverage
The DoD's three-tiered health care program, called Tricare, covers military families and their survivors. It is perhaps one of the most widely used military benefits for children and spouses of service members, which includes dental care and other coverage (depending on your plan and military status).
Children are eligible for Tricare health benefits through their relation to a qualifying military service member. They include unmarried children and surviving children of military service members, and children of Medal of Honor recipients. Many service members automatically become enrolled upon enlistment, after registering in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).
Survivor benefits are available to the children of deceased or permanently disabled service members, including:
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): An untaxed monthly payment to the survivors (including children) of military service members who died in the line of duty or from a service-related injury (or who were permanently disabled as a result of their service).
- Dependents' Education Assistance Program (DEA): This program offers up to 45 months (81 for some beneficiaries) of education benefits to surviving children of service members who either died or were permanently disabled as a result of their service.
- Death Gratuity: One-time payment of up to $100,000 to survivors of a service member (or non-military federal employee) who dies of injuries incurred in service with the military.
State Benefits for Veterans
The children of deceased and disabled military veterans also have access to education benefits in some states. For instance, many state university and community college systems will waive fees and a portion of tuition for qualifying children of deceased, disabled, or honorably discharged service members. Check with your state's department of veterans’ affairs for more details. Examples include:
- California - Fee Waiver Program: This program is available to students below a certain income level with a parent who is a disabled or deceased veteran.
- Texas - Tuition Waivers for Veterans: Provides exemptions from tuition and some fees at public colleges and universities for dependent children of MIA or POW military service members.
- Florida - Education for Children of Deceased of Disabled Veterans: Florida provides scholarships for dependent children (ages 16 to 22) for tuition and registration fees.
If you have additional questions about military benefits for children, consider speaking with a military lawyer.