The Chapter 35 provides up to 45 months of entitlement for eligible spouses and dependent children to go to school and learn a career. The program provides a means to get a post-secondary education either as a traditional student in a brick-and-mortar classroom setting, or through one of many online options. Typical types of courses covered are:
- College programs resulting in a degree
- Trade, technical, licensure or certification training
- On-the-job training/apprenticeships
- Correspondence courses
- Cooperative training
- Overseas programs (leading toward a college degree).
To qualify as a surviving spouse or dependent child, the sponsor – meaning the veteran – must be VA-rated as totally and permanently disabled as a result of a service-connected event, or by the passing of the disabled veteran. However, the requirements also extend to servicemembers listed as missing in action, a prisoner of war or held captive by a foreign power.
The definition of a surviving spouse is straightforward, however, what constitutes a dependent child may not be. To qualify for the program, you are considered a dependent, if you are under the age of 27 and:
- a biological child of the military member
- adopted through the courts system or
- a legally adopted step-child.
Dependent Children – As a dependent child, you have to go to school to draw the benefit. With 45 months of entitlement, and attending nine-month academic school years, it is enough benefit for up to five years of school. Just be sure to start school early enough so you can finish before your 27th birthday as unused entitlements are lost at that time.
And you must remain in school to continue to draw the benefit. If you decide to follow in your sponsor’s footsteps and joint the military, your benefits will stop while you are on active duty. Once out of the military and back in school, your benefit will start again, provided you were not discharged under dishonorable conditions. By voluntarily serving in the military between the ages of 18 and 26, your eligibility can be extended up to eight years, but not past your 31st birthday.
If you already served in the military, but were recalled to active duty after September 10, 2001, your eligibility can be extended for the duration of the deployment plus four months. In case of an involuntary recall, eligibility can extend past your 31st birthday.
Besides military service, other events can extend your eligibility period, such as:
- Not able to attend classes due to having to meet family or financial obligations.
- Unexpected change in employment – you get transferred to a new location with the same company.
- A death in the family.
- A debilitating family illness requiring your care.
- Personal long-term illness preventing you from attending classes.
- Called into missionary service.
Surviving Spouse – As a surviving spouse, and you remarry while drawing Chapter 35 benefits, the benefits or eligibility of your dependent children will not be affected.
Your program benefits normally end 10 years from your date of eligibility, unless your sponsor dies while on active duty. In that situation, your eligibility period doubles and will continue up to 20 years after your sponsor’s death, or until your 45 months of benefits are exhausted, or until you remarry, provided you are under the age of 57. If you are 57 or older, your eligibility will continue until the benefit is exhausted, you graduate or quit school.
If your sponsor is officially listed as missing in action, a prisoner of war or detained by a foreign power, your eligibility starts on the 91st day after the official listed status and ends 10 years later. If your sponsor is found or released, your eligibility ends immediately, however, you may still draw benefits for up to 12 weeks or until the end of the school term, whichever occurs first.
Chapter 35 Application Procedures
Before applying for the program, first determine if your school is VA-approved. If it is, submit VA Form 22-5490 from the eBenefits website or download the form, fill it out and mail it to the VA Regional Office having jurisdiction over your school. The information is on the form.
As with most GI Bills, payment rates are annually adjusted on October 1st. As of this writing, a full-time student attending either a college degree or non-degree program receives $936 per month; starting October 1st, the payment increases to $957 per month.
If you attend school on a less than full-time basis, then your payment is prorated proportionally according to your rate of pursuit. For example, if you are considered a half-time student, then you would receive 50% of the $936 amount per month.
As far as entitlement use, one month of benefit is deducted for each one month of benefit ($936) paid out. So as a full-time student, you would use one month of entitlement for each month of school, while as a half-time student, you would use only one month of benefit every two months of school.
Apprenticeships and OJT programs pay differently; these programs pay $682 ($698 starting October 1st) per month for the first six months and then your pay drops incrementally during each successive 6-month period. As your knowledge of the trade increases, so does your pay from your employer, offsetting your drop of Chapter 35 pay.
With the Chapter 35 program, you have some financial assistance to learn a career. While the program does not pay all school-related expenses, it does help financially to learn a trade or career – an opportunity otherwise you may not have had.
Photo thanks to DVIDSHUB under creative commons license on Flickr.