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VA demotes official after 10,000 vets go without GI bill benefits

Maj. Gen. Robert M. Worley II, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington D.C., gives a speech at the first Air Force Strike Board at the Mirage club. (Senior Airman Jacqueline Romero/U.S. Air Force)
November 16, 2018
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An official with the Department of Veterans Affairs has been demoted and reassigned over failures that prevented GI Bill benefits from reaching veterans for months.

More than 10,000 veterans went 30 days or longer without receiving their GI Bill benefits, impairing veterans’ abilities to pay their education and housing bills, CNN reported Thursday.

Robert Worley, executive director of Education Service of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), was reassigned on Wednesday to the regional Houston office where he will serve as executive director.

“For today, it is 1,000 claims that are pending over 60 days … we have a little over 10,000 that are between the 31- and 60-day mark,” Worley said before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

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“We’ve worked many thousands of claims – in that ballpark. We’ve focused on older claims, especially over the last two months, to make sure those numbers have come down, and they have come down,” he added.

News of Worley’s reassignment was revealed before his testimony, and later confirmed by a spokesperson for the VA. He served in his position for more than six years before the reassignment decision. He is also a retired Air Force Major General.

A former VA official told NBC News that Worley’s reassignment prior to the committee hearing “allows him to take a bullet for the undersecretary.”

Problems reportedly began for the GI Bill benefits due to an outdated 50-year-old IT system and an influx of claims since President Donald Trump signed in the “Forever GI Bill” into law last year, which was designed to “enhance or expand education benefits for Veterans, service members, families and survivors.”

VA officials at the House committee hearing this week were unable to say when the IT problems were expected to be resolved, nor could they estimate the cost of the issue, or the number of veterans impacted by it.

Several committee members expressed disdain for the issues and the apparent lack of solutions from the VA.

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“I’m asking myself, are we destined to live with these IT problems regardless of how much taxpayer money we invest? It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful,” said Democrat Rep. Lou Correa.

“Not having a deadline going forward is a recipe for disaster if I’ve ever heard one,” said Democrat Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

“We’re frustrated. We feel powerless up here because we’ve given you money, given you authority, asked you if you needed anything else. The veterans, I think, feel powerless, too. They’re trapped in this bureaucracy and can’t get out of it,” said Republican Rep. Jodey Arrington.

“This administration promised to clean up the culture of bureaucratic incompetence inside the VA. Based on this testimony today, I don’t think they’ve made a lick of difference,” said Republican Rep. Mike Coffman.

The remarks were echoed by several senators who penned a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

“As a nation we have a responsibility to be there for our veterans, and part of that duty involves fulfilling our promise to ensure they have access to education after they leave the service,” the letter said. “These errors and delays undermine the intent of the GI Bill and put unnecessary and avoidable strain on veterans and their families during a critical time of transition,” the letter said, signed by Democrat senators Patty Murray, Richard Blumenthal, Michael Bennet, Sherrod Brown and Debbie Stabenow.

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