Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a bill today that would amend the Post-9/11 GI Bill to include spousal eligibility for the Fry Scholarship. Under the Spouses of Heroes Education Act, spouses of fallen servicemembers could receive the full cost of public, in-state 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 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.
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), a coalition comprised of 33 organizations representing more than 5.5 million members of the uniformed services and their families, has established a goal of authorizing surviving spouses to have the same educational benefits as their children.