Claiming Secondary Dependents in the Army

By 1st Lt. Jonas Subaar, Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office

There are times when Soldiers’ dependents may include more than their spouse and children. The Army allows Soldiers to include other family members into their records as dependents. Many service members provide support for others beyond their immediate family. There is a military program that supports service members, but most Soldiers do not know about it, or do not know how to start the process. This article provides an overview and information on enrollment into this program and the types of support that may be available for Soldiers and their family members, to have eligible family included as secondary dependents, ensuring that they receive the benefits and allowances to support total Army and Soldier readiness.

Military Dependents 

Certain family members, such as a spouse or child, are automatically entitled to dependency status. Under certain conditions, other family members, known as secondary (non-primary) dependents, may also qualify for dependency status. This qualification requires an initial dependency determination made by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

Secondary dependents may include: 

  • A parent, parent-in-law, stepparent, parent by adoption, or any person who stood “in-loco parentis” to a Soldier for at least five years prior to their emancipation.  (According to the DoD Financial Management Regulation: "a person who stood in place of the natural parent(s) to the Military Service member" is considered in loco parentis. For secondary dependency purposes, the person(s) must have been in loco parentis at any time for a continuous period of at least five years before the member's 21st birthday.)
  • Unmarried children ages 21 and 22 who are enrolled in an accredited institution of higher education on a fulltime basis. 
  • A ward of the court, unmarried, and placed in the permanent legal physical custody of the service member, or, if not permanent custody, for a period of at least 12 consecutive months. 
  • An unmarried child over 21, incapable of self-support because of mental or physical incapacity that occurred while the child was considered a dependent of a service member or retired member or is considered the dependent of a deceased member (while under age 21 or under age 23 and a full-time student).

SDC Benefits

Family members who qualify by meeting the requirements under the categories above are eligible for:

  • TRICARE – Access to military healthcare
  • Recreation – Morale, Welfare, and Recreation privileges
  • Shopping – Commissary and Exchange privileges

Service members may be eligible for increased Basic Allowance for Housing not to exceed full BAH with dependents and travel allowances.

Once a family member is determined to meet the criteria as a dependent adult, they are eligible for an ID card. Their ID card opens the door to services such as military healthcare or TRICARE, access to military morale, welfare, and recreation services or MWR, and tax-free shopping at commissaries (grocery stores) and military exchange department stores. The individual’s ID card may need to be renewed every four years if the sponsor is an active-duty service member.

Family members of retired service members entitled to Medicare due to a disability may receive an indefinite ID card. However, it is important to remember that eligibility for an indefinite ID card does not waive the requirement to complete a dependency determination through the appropriate office for the sponsor’s service every four years. Note: Each branch of service has a slightly different system for applying for secondary dependency.

Army Dependency Determination Procedures

Preparing and submitting applications to have eligible persons included as secondary dependents can ensure eligible families receive the benefits and allowances they are entitled to. In general, SDC enrollment requires DD Form 137-5, and a service member can either be active duty or a mobilized reservist. All applications must show that the individual seeking benefits is dependent mostly on the service member. To qualify as a secondary dependent:

  • The individual’s income, not including service member contribution, must be less than one-half of the actual living expenses. 
  • The individual must be ‘in fact’ dependent on the service member. 
  • The service member’s contribution must be more than one-half of the dependent’s actual monthly living expenses. 
  • The service member must provide documentation of the dependent’s living expenses and the service member’s contribution. 

Establishing the dependency of an incapacitated child 21 years of age or older requires considerable documentation. The adult child, also referred to as the “Incapacitated Adult Child” must be:

  • Incapable of providing his or her own support
  • Dependent on the sponsor (military parent) for at least 50 percent of his or her support (if the sponsor is deceased, the child must have received over 50 percent of his or her support from the sponsor at the time of death)
  • Incapacitated prior to age 21, or age 23 if the adult child is enrolled as a full-time student.
  • Unmarried— however, if the child marries and subsequently becomes unmarried due to divorce, annulment, or the death of the spouse, the sponsor is able to apply for reinstatement of the child’s benefits and entitlements as long as the adult child meets all other requirements.

Seeking Legal Assistance

The secondary dependency process requires a significant amount of paperwork but attaining it can help with some of the challenges of supporting an adult dependent of a service member, especially for those service members who are still on active duty. 

The Legal Assistance Office can help SDC families with ensuring they fall within the eligible categories. The LAO can also help provide required notarizations. In addition to the application forms, the initial paperwork requires notary as well as affidavits that support statements to establish support. When applicable, a notarized copy of all court documents designating the Sponsor as Conservator/Guardian for the individual is also required. Most documents must be notarized before submission to DFAS. Failure to submit all documentations may result in denial. However, with legal assistance support, a Soldier may be able to appeal a denial if DFAS denial is not supported under DoD Financial Management Regulations.

If you have more questions about this topic, please schedule an appointment to speak with an attorney at Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office by either calling (915) 568-7141 during office hours or emailing anytime.