Military Aid Societies & Education Benefits
If you need more money to fund your education or that of a dependent or spouse, military aid societies are a resource you should consider. Some only learn about military aid societies when they face financial hardship and need help above and beyond their military pay and allowances. These societies provide such emergency help but they can also be a source of education funds for qualifying applicants.
You may find an office for the aid society on your base or at a nearby base if you live in a larger military community. You can also contact these agencies via their official sites.
Here’s what you need to know about military aid societies and how they can help you when it’s time to pay for education. The first thing you should know? It’s good to contact the military aid society you want to apply with directly before filling out any forms.
What Are Military Aid Societies?
Military aid societies exist to help service members and their families. Also known as military relief societies, you will find the following agencies ready to help in qualifying circumstances:
- Air Force Aid Society
- Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
- Army Emergency Relief
- Coast Guard Mutual Assistance
Each society has its own mission statement, its own requirements for assistance, and rules for paying back that assistance where applicable. Not all help has to be repaid, much depends on the individual program.
How to Request Help
The application process for education assistance from a military aid or military relief society will vary depending on the program. For example, the Army Emergency Relief (AER) application process includes this admonition to work with the chain of command:
“Your chain of command has the power to approve immediate financial assistance up to $2,000. Your chain of command can also refer you to the on-post AER officer. Your chain of command is empowered to help. Just ask!”
The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) asks new applicants to set up an appointment. “When you need help, call to make an appointment at your nearest NMCRS office right away. Often you can be seen the same day. “
As you can see, depending on your branch of service you may need to approach your application differently. And naturally, the Army’s advice is directed toward those who need immediate financial relief. But those who need educational resources do well to take the “talk to your chain of command” advice to learn what new options may be open to you to fund your education, and/or that of your school-age dependents or spouse.
For any relief society, contacting the agency directly before you apply may be helpful.
The Air Force Aid Society
Air Force Aid Society programs include emergency financial assistance to Air Force and Space Force families. This help comes in the form of zero-interest loans and grants. The Air Force Aid Society also offers educational assistance to qualifying military spouses and school-age dependent children including:
AFAS education grants, loans, and scholarships are available to dependent children or spouses of Airmen and Guardians, both active duty and retired.
- General H. Arnold Education Grant
- AFAS Merit Scholarship
- AFAS Supplement Education Loan Program
The Hap Arnold Education Grant is the “flagship” Air Force Aid Society education program. These are available during an open application season announced each year and approved based on need. Grant funds between $500 and $4,000 are awarded annually until the funds are gone for that year.
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The Air Force Aid Society Supplemental Education Loan Program offers no-interest Supplemental Education Loans for qualifying school-age Air Force dependents up to $1,000. These loans are intended to offset costs such as books, boarding costs, tuition, etc.
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS)
The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Education Program offers educational assistance in the form of interest-free loans and grants. These are offered to the spouses and children of qualifying sailors and Marines, as well as those serving on active duty (both sailors and Marines) who are enrolled in qualifying military continuing education programs.
These grants and loans range from $500 to $3,000 per academic year, and the funds are paid directly to the school. This money can only be used for books, fees, tuition, and lodging; interest-free loans are offered with a 24-month repayment plan via military allotment.
Army Emergency Relief (AER)
The options offered through Army Emergency Relief include AER scholarships offered to qualify spouses and dependents of:
- Active duty
- Deceased active
- Deceased retired
- Medically retired
- So-called “gray area retirees”
- Active Guard Reserve and United States Army Reserve on Title 10 Orders(must be for the entire academic year)
All applicants are required to be registered as dependents in DEERS. These scholarships are offered on an annual basis and the amount of the funds awarded depends on how many applicants are approved.
The Shinseki Spouse scholarship program offers financial academic assistance for up to four years of full-time study or eight years of part-time study. This award must be reapplied for each year and there is a year-round application option.
The Ursano Scholarship Program was created for dependent children. This is a need-based scholarship program meant to help finish the applicant’s first undergraduate degree. Like the Shinseki scholarship, this must be applied for each year and there is a maximum of four academic years’ worth of financial help offered. An estimated family contribution toward school expenses may be required.
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA)
CGMA offers a number of education grants and loan programs that can help qualifying service members and dependents. One of the major options under CGMA is the Stafford/PLUS Loan Fee Reimbursement program which allows qualifying students to apply for a refund of their Stafford/PLUS student loan fee at the end of each academic term.
You may also qualify for Coast Guard Supplemental Education Grants for up to $500 a year and families with more than one CGMA-eligible applicant per year are, if approved, entitled to up to $500 each.
All SEG grants are applied to the current calendar year, no matter when the education costs were incurred. There is also a CGMA Education Loan program offering loans up to $3,000 to help with education costs.
What to Know About Military Aid Societies
Programs are subject to change year to year. Legislation, changes in the program, changes in the direction of the military aid society, and other variables may affect the availability of certain tuition assistance.
You may be subject to a cap on such financial aid and it’s important to know the terms and conditions of other financial aid programs you may be using to help pay for school as some might be required to be the “last payer” in the process. That means some financial aid may be dependent on what is left to pay once all other financial aid options are exhausted.
About the author
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.