The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (“Choice Act”) was recently signed into law. Most of the Act pertains to Veterans health care but it also included two provisions affecting GI Bill® benefits.
The Fry Scholarship was created to honor Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry, 28, of Lorena, Texas. Sergeant Fry had one week left in his tour in Iraq in 2006, when he volunteered to continue working for seven more hours disarming explosive devices, despite having already sustained an injury to his hand. He made the ultimate sacrifice on March 8, 2006, in Anbar province, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated. He left behind a widow and three children. I recently had the honor of meeting Malia Fry at a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivor (TAPS) event. We have created Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Agreements with both TAPS and the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation with the sole purpose to encourage cooperation and collaboration between VA and both of these important organizations, to promote the Fry Scholarships to eligible individuals.
Section 701 of the Choice Act expands the Fry Scholarship to include the surviving spouses of Servicemembers who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001. Prior to this law, only children of those who died in the line of duty were eligible for this benefit. We have had the honor to have served 1,279 children under the Fry Scholarship in FY 2013 and we look forward to now honoring the surviving spouses.
The law states eligible spouses are entitled to receive:
- 36 months of full benefits, equal to 100% level of the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, this includes tuition and fee payment, a monthly housing allowance, and a stipend for books and supplies.
- Training must start on or after January 1, 2015. Training prior to January 1, 2015, is not eligible to receive benefits under Section 701.
- A spouse has 15 years from the date of the Service Member’s death to utilize benefits. If a spouse remarries, benefits end the date of the remarriage.
Some spouses currently eligible for, or already receiving, benefits under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program may now be eligible for the Fry Scholarship. DEA is an educational program offering up to 45 months of education benefits to eligible dependents of Veterans who died while on active duty, as well as dependents of Veterans who died as a result of a service-connected condition or are permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition. Surviving spouses of Service members who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001, will have to make a one-time irrevocable election to receive either the Fry Scholarship or DEA.
They expect to begin accepting Fry Scholarship applications by mail from spouses starting Monday, November 3, 2014.
To learn more about this important new benefit, please review the Fact Sheet at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/handouts_forms.asp. To either apply or make an election, one can complete and send an application (Form VA-Form 22-5490). You can download the form at http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-22-5490-ARE.pdf and send a copy via the GI Bill website (http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill) using the “Ask a Question” button. You may also mail the completed form to your nearest Regional Processing Office, or request a paper application by calling 1-888-GI BILL-1 (888-442-4551).