Latest GI Bill blunder leaves student vets penniless

Matt Saintsing
November 13, 2018 - 3:54 pm

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At the University of Maryland, University College, one student veteran couldn’t afford gas money to drive to class. Others are late on paying their rents, and some can’t purchase required course materials, like books. 

All due to a series of continuing technology glitches causing GI Bill users to experience severely delayed housing payments. 

And the issue is plaguing university officials charged with helping navigate student vets through their education.

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“If it’s a 'student’ problem, it becomes our problem,” Michelle Reitze, assistant vice president of stateside military operations at UMUC and a school certifying official tells Connecting Vets. 

The VA has a massive backlog of GI Bill applications after the Forever GI Bill signed into law last year changed the department’s technological requirements for certifying educational benefits. 

VA’s tech glitch is, in turn, passing on an excess of additional work that schools must do to get student vets paid what they’re already owed. 

“Things are taking longer, and we have this long backlog of certifications we’ll have to amend, and the longer it takes VA to update their systems, the larger that workload gets,” says Reitze. 

The root issue stems from a failure on the part of VA to roll out its certification interface by the date the Forever GI Bill came into effect. The initial date was July 16, 2018, then Aug. 13, and now, no roll-out date is on the horizon. 

AT UMUC alone, some 5,000 to 6,000 certifications must be re-certified once VA’s IT fixes are in place. Processing those amended certifications will consume time and resources at schools throughout the country. 

But Reitze says students have it much worse. 

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Students using the GI Bill over the summer got paid on time, but in October, Reitze says she saw an increase in students not receiving housing payments. 

In some cases, students were paid the wrong amounts, but anyone overpaid won't be expected to pay the difference back. If, however, they’ve been short-changed on their housing cash, VA will make them whole through increases in payments at a future date. 

Reitze says student vets at UMUC have yet to see those increases.

“Better late than never, because students really need their benefits,” she adds. While it may be common for some students to work, at least part-time, through college, most student veterans make their living by being enrolled in college full-time and rely on their housing stipends. 

“They call it a housing stipend, but students really need it to pay their regular bills,” she says. 

But if students aren’t getting their benefits on time, some may choose to leave school altogether. 

The VA is providing updates, according to Reitze, but she’s still waiting for that the good news that all of VA’s systems are good to go. 

“We see a lot of effort being made, but the frustration comes from the fact that we’re still waiting for the concrete (technology) changes to occur,” says Reitze. 

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