When you or a loved one is in the military, life can be stressful. But military dependent benefits can help lessen this burden. These benefits can come in the forms of discounted groceries, monetary compensation, education assistance, and more.

The term military dependent can include a variety of immediate family members, from children to parents. However, many dependents struggle to understand what benefits they may qualify for and how to access these programs. So what benefits do you qualify for as a military dependent or survivor? And how do you ensure that you're getting the benefits you deserve?

What is a Military Dependent?

Before we can delve into the benefits of being a military dependent, first we need to define this term. Military dependents are the spouse, children, or other family members of an active duty service member. However, in some cases, additional benefits are granted to the family members of a veteran. While spouses are always considered dependents, children and other family members need to meet certain criteria to qualify.

A qualifying child must be under 21 years of age (or under 23 years of age if enrolled in school) to receive any benefits. However, this age limit disappears if the child is mentally or physically incapable of caring for themselves. Parents of an active duty service member may also count as dependents if they rely on the service member for at least half of their financial support. If you're unsure if a member of your family is an eligible military dependent, contact your local base or installation.

Military dependents qualify for a number of benefits through their family's service member. These benefits can range from housing assistance to healthcare and can help lessen the stress of following a military lifestyle. But accessing the benefits you deserve isn't always easy. One of the first steps to obtaining the benefits you are eligible for involves getting your military dependent ID card.

How do you get a military dependent ID card?

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Just like active duty service members and veterans receive a military ID card that proves their status, the same is true for military dependents. In many cases, accessing your military benefits can be hard, or even impossible, without this card in hand. So what exactly is a military dependent ID card? And how do you get a copy of your own?

Your military ID card is necessary to access on-base privileges like the commissary, childcare, and recreational activities. And if you want to access additional benefits like health insurance, you will also need to present your military dependent ID card along with other required documents. In short, obtaining your military dependent ID card is an important first step to accessing all of your available benefits.

If you are the current or surviving spouse, qualifying child, or qualifying parent of an active duty service member, then you likely qualify for a military dependent ID card. To get your ID card, you must bring proof of identity and any other necessary forms to your local ID card issuer. As long as all of your information is current and accurate, and you are a qualifying military dependent, you will then receive your ID card.

What is DEERS?

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When obtaining your military dependent ID card or applying for benefits, you'll probably come across something called DEERS. This acronym stands for the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System. DEERS is a cohesive database of active duty and retired service members. The DEERS system includs military dependents, but unlike service members, they must register manually.

Ensuring your information is up to date in DEERS is most important for enrolling in Tricare, a military health insurance option that we'll cover in more detail below. But some other benefits also rely on the information within this database to confirm that you and your family are eligible. If you're unsure how to manage your DEERS information or have any other questions, contact your base or installation's personnel office.

What Benefits are Available to Military Dependents?

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Dependents of active duty military members qualify for a range of benefits as long as their family member is serving. Many of these benefits are available through your respective base or installment. But some are also available to dependents living away from their service member or off-base.

Below, we've summarized some of the most common benefits for active duty military dependents. After an active duty service member is discharged or retired, these benefits will normally go away. In some cases, such as following a service-related death or disability, military dependents will still qualify for benefits. But these benefits are slightly different than what is available to most military dependents.

What Benefits are Available to Military Dependents?

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Active duty service members and their families can receive free health services at their local military health facility. While this healthcare is free, space is often limited and appointments hard to come by. To help lessen the load on these facilities, and accommodate military members and dependents outside of their service range, the military also offers a more traditional insurance option.

Active duty military and their families receive health coverage through Tricare. This program works much like a traditional insurance provider but at an extremely discounted rate. Military dependents will qualify for free or lower-cost healthcare as long as their family member remains in service or retires. Those who are discharged, except in the case of 100-percent disability, will typically lose their coverage after a short transitional period.

Basic Allowance for Housing

When an active duty service member has dependents living with them, they typically have two options. They can either live on-base for free or live off-base and receive a bi-weekly housing allowance. If a service member gets stationed somewhere that dependents are not allowed to live, they can live on-base while their family still receives the housing allowance. This is also true if the service member gets deployed overseas. Unmarried or divorced service members do not qualify for this housing allowance unless they also have dependent children living with them.

The amount your family receives for their housing allowance will depend on the active duty service members stationed location. Regional housing rates determine the total housing allowance allocated to service members and their dependent service members. However, if the service member's dependents live elsewhere because of deployment or another reason, there are some exceptions for housing rates.

Base privileges

Military dependents typically have full base privileges as long as their family's service member is active duty or retired. This access includes the base's commissary and exchange, where you can purchase discounted groceries and other tax-free goods. You can also access base-sponsored recreational activities and services. These can include bowling centers, fitness programs, counseling, and more. The list of recreational facilities available to you will depend on your respective base or installation.

Utilizing your base privileges will require a military dependent ID card in almost all cases. Some bases may allow you to enter with another form of identification, but this is not a guarantee.


What Benefits are Available to Military Survivors?

When a service member dies or becomes permanently disabled from a service-related incident, life drastically changes for their family members. To help lessen the burden of these tragedies, the military extends additional benefits to the dependents and survivors of these service members. While many military dependent benefits end when the family's service member leaves the military, the benefits afforded to survivors can last for a lifetime.

Since there are so many benefits and programs available to dependents and survivors, it can be difficult to determine what applies to you. Your local VA office can help you navigate the process of accessing these benefits. You can also contact the Office of Survivors Assistance for help finding your service member's records or additional information.

Education benefits

The dependents of disabled or deceased veterans may qualify for free or discounted schooling through the GI Bill or other means. These programs cover a range of schooling options, from post-secondary education to on-the-job training. With the help of these education benefits, military dependents and survivors can continue their education without financial worry.

Many dependents or survivors of veterans are eligible for the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program. This program provides up to 36 months (previously 45 months) of schooling assistance for the military dependents of certain service members. Children may take advantage of this program between the ages 18 and 26. Some children who enter the military can have this benefit extended in some cases. Spouses have 10 to 20 years to use this program, depending on the circumstances of their partner's death or disability.

The survivors or dependents of veterans who died in service, were 100-percent disabled in service, or died while suffering from a service-related disability all qualify for this program. Survivors of veterans missing in action or captured during service also qualify. If you believe you qualify for this or any of the military's other education assistance programs, you can apply online or visit your local VA office.

Disability compensation

Monthly disability compensation, also called Disability and Indemnity Compensation, is available for the survivors of a veteran who died of a service-related incident or disability. These payments help lighten the financial stress that comes with losing what might have been the family's sole working member.

Surviving spouses, children, or eligible parents can receive this compensation as a monthly payment. The amount you are eligible for will depend on a variety of factors, but you can find more information on the VA website about current rates. To learn if you qualify for these benefits, you can check online or visit your regional VA office.

Home loans

The military also offers VA-backed home loan options for the surviving spouses of qualified veterans. A VA-backed home loan can help guarantee a lower interest rate and protect your purchase. Those who use a VA-backed home loan do not need a down payment and do not have to pay monthly insurance premiums or prepayment fees. These benefits can help get you and your family into a quality home at an affordable price.

To apply for a VA-backed home loan, you will first need to acquire a Certificate of Eligibility. This certificate serves as proof to your chosen financial lender that you have the VA's backing for your future loan. You are likely eligible for a VA home loan if your spouse died or was totally disabled in the line of duty, or died while suffering from a service-related disability. Surviving spouses who remarry typically lose these home financing benefits.

Understanding Your Rights as a Military Dependent

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Dealing with the absence or loss of a service member is never easy. Even if you live with your active duty family member, the responsibilities of service may mean that quality time together is few and far between. Nothing can truly ease these struggles. But the military does offer a variety of benefits to service members and their dependents or survivors.

However, accessing these benefits is often a daunting task. First, you must prove eligibility of both yourself and your active duty family member. Then, you must navigate the confusing world of military dependent benefits and programs. Some of these benefits just require showing your military dependent ID card, like visiting the on-base commissary. But others require forms, certificates, and constant updating to ensure that your benefits do not lapse.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of accessing your military survivor or dependent benefits, there are resources that can help. Your local VA office may be able to help you understand your eligibility and collect the necessary records to apply for these benefits. The VA also maintains the Office of Survivors Assistance. This office can help you with everything from memorials for your service member to understanding your healthcare options. You can also find a range of support groups across the country for survivors and military dependents of all kinds. Whatever your situation is, rest assured you are not alone.

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