Making Dreams Come True

Author: Robert Worley II

What’s your child’s dream job? Chef? Veterinarian? Teacher? With the right education, the potential opportunities are endless. But when a family member or loved one is lost, saving money for college can be difficult. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs knows how hard it can be for families who have experienced loss to pay for higher education. That’s why there are several VA assistance programs available to support spouses and dependents of service members who have died or become disabled in the line of duty.

The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship 

After her husband was killed in action, Malia Fry, a Marine Corps widow, did not know how she was going to send her children to college. The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship grew out of her efforts to honor her husband’s memory. This program provides Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to children and surviving spouses of service members who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001. 

“Every child of every fallen in the line of duty receives it,” Malia says. “All they have to do is sign up for college and apply.” 

Those who qualify may receive up to 36 months of benefits, including full tuition and fees for in-state public colleges. Recipients are also given allowances for monthly housing and supplies. 

Malia’s efforts made it possible for hundreds of children and surviving spouses of fallen service members, as well as her own children, to attend college without worrying about the cost. She encourages those eligible to take advantage of the Fry Scholarship: “It’s not based on grades. You have it. It’s yours.” 

The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program 

This program offers education and training opportunities to eligible spouses and dependents of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition or who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition. 

Dependents must be between the ages of 18 and 26 to receive benefits for attending school or job training. For spouses, benefits end 10 years from the date VA determines eligibility or from the date of the veteran’s death. For surviving spouses of service members who died on active duty, benefits end 20 years from the date the service member died. 

These benefits cover a wide range of opportunities, including college, business, technical and vocational programs, certification tests, apprenticeships and on-the-job training, tutorial assistance, and work-study.

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act

This legislation,  also known as the “Forever GI Bill,” will bring significant changes to veterans’ education benefits in the coming years. Most changes enhance or expand benefits for veterans, service members, families, and survivors. 

One such change is eliminating the time limit for use of the Fry Scholarship for some recipients. Prior to the Colmery Act, children had until age 33 to use the Fry Scholarship, and surviving spouses had 15 years from the date their service member died. The time limits have now been eliminated for children who became entitled after January 1, 2013. For Fry spouses, it no longer matters when they became entitled. Thousands of families can now access their benefits when the time is right for them. 

For the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program, eligible family members  currently enrolled in education programs may receive up to 45 months of benefits. For those who enroll on or after August 1, 2018,the number of months of entitlement will decrease to 36. Starting October 1, 2018, however, the amount of monthly assistance will increase to $1,224 for full-time coursework, $967 for three-quarter time, and $710 for half-time. 

VA hopes these changes and others brought about by the Colmery Act will have an immediate and positive impact on veterans and their families looking to pursue educational goals. 


Brittany TippsBrittany Tipps holds a photo of her father on her high school graduation day. She is headed to Texas A&M University-Commerce on a full scholarship this fall, thanks to the VA’s education benefits.

Lauren Stubenhofer and familySurviving daughter Lauren Stubenhofer, shown with her family at her high school graduation, received a full scholarship to attend Clemson University, her parents’ alma mater.


Whether it’s a child heading off to college or an adult returning to school, higher education comes with a price tag. Fortunately, with support from VA benefits, the children and spouses of fallen heroes can still follow their dreams. 

“I go to a TAPS event and I go in the kids’ section and there’s a thousand kids at a camp. Every one of them gets to go to college,” Malia says. “And that’s pretty amazing.” 


From the pen of...

Robert M. Worley II is director of education service for the Veteran Benefits Administration. He provides executive oversight for policy, planning, and integration of education programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.


TAPS Editor's Note:

Your education is part of your loved one’s legacy for you, and the TAPS Education Support Services team is here to ensure that you enter this phase of your life with as much peace of mind as possible. For more information on accessing education benefits and scholarships for surviving spouses and dependents, call our education support coordinators at (800) 959-TAPS (8277) or email

In addition to education benefits, spouses and dependents may be eligible for other VA benefits, such as health care, disability compensation, home loan guarantee, and employment services. To find out more, call TAPS Casework at (800) 959-8277 or email