Brown Demands Answers on VA Processing Delays That Are Disrupting Veterans’ GI Bill Benefits

Sen. Brown Joins Dem Senators in Urging VA to Address the Needs of Hundreds of Thousands of Veterans Believed to be Impacted by Long Delays in Payments for Education & Housing

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) this week joined U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to immediately address the severe backlog of living stipend and tuition payments for veterans receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.

According to recent media reports, on-going problems with VA’s IT system have resulted in many veterans not receiving the living stipend and tuition payments they use to pay for education and housing expenses in a timely manner, causing significant financial strain and hardship for veterans attempting to use the benefits they earned from their military service. Additionally, the Senators requested that the Department confirm it will not retroactively collect overpayments to students resulting from other IT issues. It is believed hundreds of thousands of veterans receiving GI Bill benefits have been impacted by VA’s processing delays, including approximately 82,000 veterans who, according to VA data, have not received their housing benefits as of November 8.

“For many of our nation’s veterans, the living stipend payments were expected by September 1, 2018, and the multi-month delays create a real crisis to not only their long-term education and career goals, but also their daily needs. Regardless of what caused or is causing the delay, we believe it is imperative for VA to address this issue with the urgency it deserves,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “We will not stop pressing for information and action until every veteran receives the benefits they earned in their service to our country.”

A copy of their letter to the VA can be found below and HERE:

November 13, 2018

 

The Honorable Robert Wilkie

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20571

 

Dear Secretary Wilkie:

We are writing with significant concerns regarding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ processing delays for veterans receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. For many of our nation’s veterans, the living stipend payments were expected by September 1, 2018, and the multi-month delays create a real crisis to not only their long-term education and career goals, but also their daily needs. Regardless of what caused or is causing the delay, we believe it is imperative for VA to address this issue with the urgency it deserves. We will not stop pressing for information and action until every veteran receives the benefits they earned in their service to our country.

The reported impact of these delayed benefits is significant. Media reports suggest between 340,000 and 360,000 veterans have been receiving the incorrect amount of money for their housing stipends due to ongoing information technology system failures at VA.[1] Additionally, reporting from last month suggests there is a backlog of between 140,000 and 228,000 pending education claims.[2] While we recognize that the policy for calculating Basic Allowance for Housing was recently revised and the number of claims overall has increased, these errors and corresponding delay are hurting veterans around the country who depend on these benefits to get the education they have earned. As of November 8, press reports citing VA data show over 82,000 veterans were still waiting on housing payments.[3] There is a serious risk of significant financial hardship or veterans even becoming homeless if they do not receive these payments.

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. 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.

We understand VA employees are working overtime and with additional support to address this challenge, but given the conflicting media accounts and the pressing nature of the concern, we ask for the following essential information necessary to conduct oversight on implementation of the GI Bill:

  1. An update on the number of veterans who are currently receiving the incorrect housing stipend amount, as well as an update on the number of education claims pending.
  2. The average wait time for payment of any education benefit claims, by type of claim.
  3. The number of regular or contract full-time equivalent (FTE) employees currently working to resolve the IT failure, disaggregated by hiring authority.
  4. The total number of FTEs receiving overtime pay for implementation, and the dollar amount of such overtime.
  5. A detailed report on the origin of the IT failures leading to processing delays, including when VA first became aware of the issue.
  6. An account of immediate steps being taken to ensure those veterans for whom the housing stipend is most essential—such as those with dependents or facing the risk of housing insecurity or homelessness—are prioritized.
  7. An account of why education claims are backlogged at a significantly higher rate than last year, and a plan for how VA will ensure this does not happen next year. Additionally, VA’s education service has said processing times are higher in the fall – since this is an entirely foreseeable issue, please describe what steps VA takes each year to increase processing capacity so wait times do not increase.

We request periodic updates on the figures in questions one through four every two weeks until the problem is resolved. VA must also provide Congress with the steps it will take to ensure these issues never happen again.

Finally, we ask that VA publicly confirm on its website that the agency will not retroactively collect overpayments to students resulting from the IT failures. These errors are not our veterans’ fault and any collection will add further disruption and hardship to their education. [4]

We appreciate all you do to ensure we live up to our duty to our veterans and hope to work with you and VA to ensure this issue is addressed as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

 

Patty Murray                                                              

United States Senator

 

Richard Blumenthal

United States Senator                                                

 

Michael F. Bennet                                                       

United States Senator

 

Sherrod Brown

United States Senator   

 

Debbie Stabenow

United States Senator   

 

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