House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs holds hearing on what VA is doing to solve the problem
Along with 11 other higher education groups, ACE sent a letter last week to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs regarding the delays veterans are experiencing receiving their housing allowance and tuition benefits. These delays are largely a result of difficulties the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has experienced attempting to update its IT system to reflect changes to the law under the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, known as the Forever GI Bill.
The letter was sent in advance of a hearing the committee held last Thursday on the VA’s administrative problems. Officials on the panel claimed that student veterans could expect on-time payments beginning in the spring semester. But despite repeated requests by committee members, the officials did not offer a deadline by which the technical problems causing the delays would be fixed.
Ever since the bill’s passage in the summer of 2017, the VA has been working to modify its IT systems to account for changes in the law, including changes to the way veterans’ housing benefits would be calculated. These changes were scheduled to take effect Aug. 1 of this year, but VA missed this deadline and has continued to struggle with updating their systems.
These attempted IT upgrades have led to a series of system problems and outages, resulting in a significant claims backlog of both housing benefits, which are sent directly to veterans, and tuition payments, which are sent to institutions. The failure to make IT updates has also resulted in problems in the accuracy of the payments—for example, the housing payments that have been processed reflect 2017 rates, and not the 2018 cost of living adjustments. VA has promised to correct these payments once its system changes are made.
In September, the outstanding claims peaked at nearly 250,000. Today, the total number of outstanding claims is closer to 80,000, so progress has been made. However, according to news reports and reports from veteran service organizations, many veterans are experiencing hardships due to these delays.
In the letter, the groups made several recommendations to fix this problem, including asking Congress to require VA to adopt a simpler approach to calculating the housing benefits, and to require VA to post all communications related to benefit processing in an easy-to-find location on the GI bill website.