Resource Center: TAPS Military Survivor Education Support Services

Author: TAPS

One of the most exciting times in anyone’s life is the prospect of attending college, secondary education, or trade school. It can also be an emotional and financially difficult time, dealing with complicated student admissions processes, applying for student aid, and dealing with everything else that goes along with this effort. The reality is that college is expensive, and knowing where to look for financial assistance is time consuming and difficult. This is especially true for those who are attempting to secure funding while grieving the loss of a loved one.

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One of our goals at TAPS is to make every effort to ensure that surviving military dependents are not put in a position to pay for school out of pocket or through loans. Instead, we work to connect families to state and federal benefits, as well as private scholarships, to help offset the costs of tuition.

In order to accomplish this goal, TAPS is partnering with IntelliDyne, one of our long-time TAPS supporters, to build an online portal that will be a one-stop shop for education benefits for surviving military family members. While there is more to come in the near future about this exciting new tool, TAPS Casework and Education Support Services staff want to inform you now of some of the many benefits and scholarships that are currently available to survivors.

At this time, there are two primary federal benefits to assist in paying college tuition for children and spouses of the fallen. These are the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship (also known as Chapter 33) and the Survivors and Dependents’ Education Assistance (DEA) Program (Chapter 35).

The Fry Scholarship pays the equivalent of the maximum in state tuition at any school—state or private— for eligible children of those who died in the line of duty. In addition to tuition, children receive an allowance of up to $1,000 a year for books. They also receive a monthly living stipend equivalent to the salary of an E-5 with dependents in the zip code of the school.

The DEA Program pays $1,003 a month towards the cost of education (tuition, fees, books, and room and board) paid directly to the student to be used at any school. This benefit is for all surviving spouses and surviving children who are not eligible for the Fry Scholarship. Qualifying students are eligible for 45 months of benefits, and children are eligible until the age of 26, while spouses have 20 years of eligibility from the date of their loved one’s death. Surviving children can opt to use this benefit instead of the Fry Scholarship if they so choose.

Students who are eligible for the Fry Scholarship may also use the DEA Program after they run out of Fry Scholarship benefits. Effective October 1, 2013, students can receive a maximum of 48 months of education benefits between the two programs (36 months of benefits for Fry and 12 months of benefits for DEA). Should you or your student have questions about one or both benefits, please contact our TAPS Education Support Services staff for more information.

In addition to the two federal programs, as of January 1, 2014, there are 44 states that offer either a scholarship or tuition waiver to children (and in some states, spouses) of the fallen. These benefits are often overlooked by those who reside in participating states. Considering that some of these benefits are extremely inclusive—and in some instances are better than the federal benefits available—TAPS Education Support Services staff welcome the opportunity to share more with you about the potential benefits in your state if you are interested. TAPS can also research the possibility of being eligible in more than one state, given that some states offer eligibility based on the home state of record for the fallen service member.

Sometimes federal and state benefits are not enough to cover tuition costs, and that is why there are a number of private scholarship funds also available. While there are hundreds of scholarships with eligibility for our survivors, TAPS has identified a few of the scholarships that have historically impacted our survivors in a positive way and have been well received by those who have utilized them:

Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation
Eligibility: Children of a service member who died in the line of duty and who are Fry-eligible. The foundation pays out the difference in education costs after all other benefits are accounted for. It makes payments directly to the institution, but also will pay off any student loans that a student may accrue during undergraduate education.

Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund
Eligibility: Children and spouses of an active duty service member who died, regardless of the cause. The fund pays out directly to the institution, and grants are dependent on the survivor’s level of need.

Fisher House
Eligibility: Fisher House offers a variety of scholarships for military families, some specific for children of those who died in the line of duty, some specific for military spouses and surviving spouses and some for surviving children of those who died on active duty or while receiving retiree pay, regardless of the cause.

Matthew Freeman Project
Eligibility: Siblings of a fallen military member who was killed while deployed to a combat zone. Must be entering or attending an accredited university or college of choice and must show proof of acceptance. The Matthew Freeman Project is the only scholarship organization dedicated specifically to siblings of the fallen.

TAPS Education Support Services

Helping military family survivors access education benefits is just one of the things TAPS Education Support Services does for surviving military families. In addition to creating the portal described on the preceding page, TAPS Education Support Services is currently working on the following to help maximize academic success:

  • Addressing the Education needs of surviving families preemptively
  • Working to make the process of applying for Fry Scholarships and DEA Scholarships simpler
  • Adding workshop sessions on education benefits at select TAPS regional and national seminars
  • Contacting federal, state, and private benefits on behalf of TAPS families
  • Offering guidance and advice on Education benefits to tailor the options to each family’s unique needs and circumstances
  •  Working with Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapters all over the country so that survivors attending institutions with SVA chapters have peer support on campus

Since 1994, TAPS has been supporting families of the fallen, and the development of the Education Support Services program is an expansion of that support. We are here to answer all education benefits questions, and assist in any way we can with the post-secondary education process.

For more information on TAPS Education Support Services, please contact or call the TAPS helpline at 1-800-959-TAPS.