According to a report from Stars and Stripes, student veterans in the 2018-2019 school year might receive incorrect payments from the VA, because of a deadline missed by the agency to fully implement how checks are calculated. This information comes from law-makers and veteran advocates.
Last year Congress approved the Forever GI Bill, which is a significant expansion of education benefits. The VA had until August 1 to implement the 34 new provisions outlined by the law. One of the changes that needed to be implemented was changing how veterans’ housing allowances are calculated, based on the zip code of the campus where they attend classes.
The VA didn’t meet that August 1 deadline, reportedly because of technology problems. The technology was being used to complete new calculations. By mid-August, the new system still was not in place.
“It’s come to my attention that the (VA) has screwed up accountability and responsibility for a Forever GI Bill benefit,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. He said at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing that the changes that should have been made were not made and the checks and balances built into the system were not followed.
Student Veterans of America, which has nearly 1,500 chapters at colleges nationwide, is hearing from members concerned about their payments, said Barrett Bogue, the group’s vice president of public relations.
“I haven’t heard from a critical mass of student veterans who’ve been negatively affected yet, but I have heard from schools and representative that this is a problem and it needs to be addressed as soon as possible,” he said.
Since the Forever GI Bill was signed, the VA has implemented 28 of its 34 measures, Cashour said.
“It just so happens one they didn’t is the one that affects the living allowance,” Bogue said. “It’s affecting livelihood.”
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, promised “aggressive oversight” of what he described a s a “serious problem.”
The House committee already held two hearings on implementation of the Forever GI Bill, one late last year and another in July. At the July hearing, retired Maj. Gen Robert Worley II, the VA director of VA education services, said it was a “complex, heavy-lift effort.” The VA hired 200 workers to handle the additional workload.
“It’s troubling to me that VA still has not yet finalized the IT systems needed to fully implement the law, despite having a year to do so,” Roe said Wednesday in a statement. “It is now a month past the deadline set in the law… and the department’s failure to do so is unacceptable.”
The VA’s chief information officer, Scott Blackburn, resigned in April. Recently, James Gfrerer was nominated to replace him. At the senate hearing, the committee told him it would now be his responsibility to correct the problem.
Student Veterans of America is encouraging any veteran who believes they received an incorrect or delayed housing stipend to contact the VA’s GI Bill hotline, at 888-GIBill-1, or the White House VA Hotline at 855-948-2311.