Why Don’t Military Widows Get Full Educational Benefits?


Update: As of August 2014, Post-9/11 GI Bill military widow benefits have been extended. Read more about surviving spouse and family education benefits on Military.com.

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 service member 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.
  • disgusted

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

  • Djfaef

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

  • There’s more to the story

    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.

  • Sailor12

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

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Is the loss of your spouse really nothing? Wow.

    • armywidow09

      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.

      • Kayce

        We got nothing read my replies your Lucky

        • Kayce

          as in no gratuity or insurance

          • Kayce

            Had no back up plan was never informed too

    • Mike

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

  • IC2Chgo

    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.

  • Gretchen Noelle

    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…

  • Kayce

    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 …

  • Kayce

    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…

  • 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.