Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Merkley Bill to Expand Educational Benefits to Spouses of Fallen Heroes

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Spouses of Heroes Education Act, legislation to expand the post-9/11 G.I. Bill to provide full educational benefits to spouses of servicemembers who die in the line of duty. The bipartisan bill, authored by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, was introduced before Memorial Day weekend with Senator Dean Heller (R-NV).

“When our servicemembers serve and sacrifice, their families serve and sacrifice alongside them,” said Merkley. “We can never fully repay the debt we owe to the spouses of our heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice, but we can ensure that they are able to go back to school and provide a foundation for their families. I’m pleased that this bipartisan bill is moving forward and is now one step closer to becoming law.” 

Currently, spouses of fallen servicemembers are only eligible to receive federal education benefits under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance Program. This program provides an allowance of up to $936 per month, but it often does not cover the full cost of tuition and fees. The Spouses of Heroes Education Act amends the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to expand the Fry Scholarship, which provides full in-state tuition and fees to children of servicemembers who have died in the line of duty. This change would allow spouses to 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.

The bill is endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Officers Association of America, the National Guard Association of the United States, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Air Force Sergeants Association, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, AMVETS, and the Student Veterans of America. In addition, the Veterans Legislative Committee of The Military Coalition, 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.