Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to add information about GI Bill benefits for Purple Heart recipients.
Some veterans using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to attend school this fall could get an inaccurate housing stipend early in the semester.
That’s because the Veterans Affairs Department is behind schedule on implementing aspects of the Forever GI Bill, signed into law last year, that relate to how veterans’ housing stipends should be calculated.
But VA promises that it will reimburse GI Bill users for any underpayments that result ― and let them pocket overpayments.
VA officials told members of Congress Wednesday that though these provisions were supposed to go into effect Aug. 1, the department missed its July 16 deadline to have the technology systems ready and has pushed back its target date to the middle of August.
In the meantime, school certifying officials have been instructed to process students’ records under the old rules, which calculate housing stipends based on the location of the school’s main campus. On Aug. 1, that was supposed to change to the location of the campus where a student takes the most classes, so some students could be under or overpaid on their first check.
The VA will correct underpayments as soon as possible, and veterans who are overpaid because of this issue will not be required to pay that money back to the VA, said retired Gen. Robert Worley, head of VA’s education service.
“We’re doing everything we can to make this a smooth and seamless rollout,” he said, assuring members of Congress that staff members are working overtime and that there is “progress being made daily.”
He said the VA pays about 500,000 GI Bill beneficiaries each fall and is on schedule to meet the Aug. 1 deadline on several other provisions, including one that provides the full 36 months of GI Bill benefits at the 100 percent level to Purple Heart recipients, regardless of how long they served in the military, and another calculating reservists’ time on active duty.
“All of that — it hasn’t been easy, but it’s gone very well,” Worley said. “We have the data in place that we need for (Aug. 1) and we’re ready to go.”
Another Forever GI Bill provision that will be ready come the first of the month is the expansion of the Yellow Ribbon program to include surviving family members using the Fry Scholarship. Yellow Ribbon is an agreement schools can enter into with VA to supplement students’ costs not covered by the GI Bill.
“The timely delivery of education benefits to our chapter members is SVA’s highest concern, especially as the fall semester nears,” Lauren Augustine, vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America, said in an email. She said that while SVA appreciates the steps that the VA has taken to make stakeholders aware of the issue and to ensure the Forever GI Bill is administered both efficiently and effectively, the technology challenges are concerning.
SVA and other organizations have lobbied for a new division at the VA focused specifically on economic opportunity that would focus on veteran transition-related issues, including education benefits, and Augustine said this is another example of why this is needed.
“We will continue to work closely with (Veterans Benefits Administration) leadership and Congress to ensure the Forever GI Bill achieves its full impact and support VBA through their proactive communication with schools, student veterans, and advocates as this issue is resolved,” she said.