Spouses of Heroes Education Act

Source: Senator Jeff Merkley’s office –

The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship provides full undergraduate education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill to the children of a member of the Armed Forces who died in the line of duty. This benefit, however, is not available to the spouses of servicemembers who are killed in action, or who die while on active duty. The surviving spouse, who has suddenly undergone the tragic loss of their life partner, also becomes the sole breadwinner for his or her family. In many cases, they do not have the educational background that allows them to take on this increased financial responsibility.

Currently, spouses of fallen service members are only eligible to receive federal education benefits under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance (SDEA) program. This program provides an allowance of up to $936 a month, but it often does not cover the full cost of tuition and fees.

Senator Merkley’s bill would amend the Post-9/11 GI Bill to include spousal eligibility for the Fry Scholarship. Under this legislation, 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. Spouses would need to use this benefit within fifteen years, and would not remain eligible if they remarried.

The Congressional Budget Office has issued a preliminary cost estimate, indicating that the bill is expected to cost about $200 million over the next ten years.

The Military Officers of America (MOAA), the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), the Air Force Sergeants Association, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and Student Veterans of America have endorsed this bill. In addition, the Veterans Legislative Committee of The Military Coalition (TMC) has established a goal of authorizing surviving spouses to have the same educational benefits as their children.

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Boxer and Wyden. In September, Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, included Senator Merkley’s provisions in her GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act of 2012, S. 2241.

Let your voice be heard. Contact your elected officials to let them know how you feel about this bill.

About the Author

Terry Howell
Before becoming the Managing Editor for Military.com, Terry served 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard as an Aviation Electrician’s Mate and aircrewman. In his final role in the Coast Guard, Terry served as a Career Development Advisor, where he provided career, finance, education, and benefits counseling to servicemembers and their families. Since retiring from the Coast Guard, Terry has authored the book, The Military Advantage, managed the content for TurboTap, the DoD's online transition program and VAforVets, the VA's transition assistance website. Terry earned both his Bachelor's and MBA at Corban University using Military Tuition Assistance and his GI Bill benefits to help cover the cost.
  • Rod

    It is about time they did something for the spouse. Itseems that there is a notion that when the service member died, the spouse died too. That is not the case. The spouse need to be able to use the scholarship through master’s level education.
    I know that they need to do something for the spouse of disabled veterans, they need help with education and income as well.

  • Rod

    It is about time they did something for the spouse. It seems that there is a notion that when the service member dies, the spouse dies too. That is not the case. the spouse has to pick up the slack that was left by the deceased service member. Most of the spouses have never had to be the sole provider. The spouse need to be able to use the scholarship through master’s level education.
    I know that they need to do something for the spouse of disabled veterans, they need help with education and income supplement as well. A lot of the veterans come back from war and do not function as they should, some have debilitating injuries and the spouse spend more time looking out for them than working. Please help those families with 30% or more disabled veterans.

  • ajmfmfwife

    Really, they are finally figuring out we (military spouses) serve just as much time serving this country as our active-duty spouses! Too bad this law won’t pay the $22,000 I accrued in student loan debt before they figured this out!!

    • concerned

      You as a spouse spend just as much time serving your country ad your active duty husband?

      • Army wife

        This is a great program that will benefit so many. As a military spouse I do not spend time serving my country,rather I spend my time supporting the Hero who serves. Please remember spouses, although we like to think that we are in the weeds with these brave soldiers we are not nor will we ever be. I worry when he is deployed when he is fighting for this country but I will never fully understand the sacrifice he makes everyday overseas or stateside. I am with my hero because that is a choice I made, to stand by him and move with him, worry with him and be brave for him. I don’t see this life I have chosen as a burden but a blessing that I thank God for everyday. If you are looking for a life without money worries you have come to the wrong company.

  • 1229

    It sounds as though this will be a useful program. ..Unfortunately, I think the message they are sending is that some AD spouses are dependent on someone else and will remarry soon after the sm dies because they can’t support themselves financially.

  • ryan

    I know that I am going to receive a backlash for my “personal opinion” which I have under my freedom of speech, but I want to say my part now after reading these comments.
    This is a great thing to finally give to the spouses and it truly is well deserved. However, I think that saying spouses serve “just as much” is a little bit of a stretch. Now I know that the spouses do sacrifice a ton and some do more than they are ever asked to do and the list is far to long to write down the amount of amazing things that spouses do, but my wife was not in combat either time I was. She did not have to experience the hell that most soldiers see and endure while in a war/war zone. My wife did not drive over an I.E.D. that blew up an M1A1 Abrams tank into pieces like the one that mine drove over on 09/16/2005 which changed my life foreverand resulted in 42 surgeries and procedures. That is because she was never there. She was at home with friends and family while going to school, partying, going to picnics, etc. Spouses, as well as mine, did and still do, sacrifice very much and do their part in supporting their loved ones oversees, and that is why I support this well deserved education benefit, but like I said earlier, replying that spouses serve “just as much” is stretching it a little bit. Some soldiers come home to an empty house, no money, and learn that they have been cheated on, left for another man, and is now in debt, or up to their necks in debt and a new future of heartache and nothing to show for the endless months of being oversees/in a war or war zone. How can the, far too many spouses like that say they have served “just as much?”

    • Gabriela

      I am a veteran’s spouse and totaly agree with you. My husband still suffer from his time overseas… I can’t tell how hard is to me see him having nightmares and bad memories… Yes is great that now spouses can grow going to school. But like you said: spouses serve “just as much” is stretching it a little bit”
      We have an important roll in this play, but no we were not there!

  • jane doe

    As a veteran and a surviving spouse I agree that “just as much” is a stretch. I do believe surviving spouses should get this benefit, but not because they did “just as much.” Their role is important and the loss is unimaginable, but in the end it is not “just as much.”