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VA refutes report: ‘Every single vet’ will get missed, underpaid GI bill payment

Service members, veterans and military retirees have a number of financial aid options they may be qualified for beyond military service-provided tuition assistance, according to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Education Center officials. (Nell King/U.S. Army)
November 29, 2018

The head of VA benefits rebutted false information that suggested veterans wouldn’t be reimbursed for delayed or incorrect GI Bill Benefit payments.

Veterans Benefits Administration Under Secretary, Paul Lawrence, testified again before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, during which he called out a “misleading NBC news story” and vowed that veterans would “be made whole” for their benefits, according to a VA press release on Thursday.

His statement below was read on the committee floor:

Before I get into my opening statement on the subject of this morning’s hearing, I want to address a misleading NBC news story from late yesterday that gives the false impression that some Veterans on the GI Bill will not be made whole with respect to their housing payments based on an announcement VA made yesterday.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Each and every Veteran on the post-9/11 GI Bill will be made 100 percent whole — retroactively if need be — for their housing benefits for this academic year based on the current uncapped DoD rates, and, beginning in spring 2020, we will be in a position to provide Veterans with the new rates where applicable to meet the law known as the Forever GI Bill.

Once again – each and every, and I mean every single Veteran, will be made whole for their housing benefits this year.  As we announced yesterday, the rates we are providing are the current academic year uncapped DoD Basic Allowance for Housing rates based on the location of a school’s main campus, rather than the physical location of the student.

The NBC News report in question said that two congressional aides said the VA would not issue corrective payments, even to veterans who were underpaid, despite the VA’s earlier promise to correct the payments, NBC News reported Wednesday.

The aides alleged that the VA could not make such payments without conducting an audit of prior claims, a process that would even further delay lagged benefit payments. Instead, the aides said new housing allowance payments outlined by the Forever GI Bill would be delayed until Dec. 2019, giving the department time to make the technical changes necessary for the new payment allowances.

“They are essentially going to ignore the law and say that that change only goes forward from December 2019,” a congressional aide told NBC News.

NBC News also claimed that a VA spokesperson confirmed that the department would issue housing allowances in accordance with the older rates outlines by the Basic Housing Allowance, and delay new allowance payments until the spring of 2020.

However, a Wednesday VA press release said only two sections of the law would be delayed – sections 107 and 501 – which “change the way monthly housing allowance payments are calculated.”

Until the computer system and technical errors are resolved – by a Spring 2020 estimate – the benefits will be calculated using the Department of Defense’s Basic Allowance for Housing rates, which are “equal to or higher than their current payment,” according to Lawrence.

Lawrence previously testified before the House committee and was forced to retract prior estimates of the timeline for a resolution to the computer errors, saying, “That was a mistake to give you a day. We did not understand the certainty around it. That is why we are not giving you a date,” NBC News reported at the time.

Lawrence explained that the Forever GI Bill signed by President Trump in July 2017 contained at least 22 sections which required a technical overhaul, ultimately affected computers’ calculations of benefit, making them unable to process the new changes.

As a result, a significant backlog of benefits claims began to grow.

“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,” said Robert Worley, then-executive director of Education Service of the VBA.

Worley was demoted from his national position and reassigned to regional VBA office in Houston.

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.