Like countless student veterans, he’s owed thousands in late GI Bill payments

Matt Saintsing
October 04, 2018 - 1:34 pm

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$3,659.

That’s how much the VA owes a student veteran in Florida. Due to an upsurge in technical problems, an unknown number of vets using the GI Bill are have received late payments, the wrong amounts, or, in the case or Erin Lagos, no money at all so far this semester. 

“You have to be prepared to have enough money for a month-and-a-half (for payment delays),” he tells Connecting Vets. “And no one tells you that.” 

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sean Elliott/Released

A former Navy damage controlman previously assigned to the destroyer USS Farragut, Lagos left the Navy in 2013 after five years, but he knew he wanted to stay on the water. So, he enrolled in the Marine Mechanic Institute in Orlando, Fla. to learn how to repair boats.

Wanting to expand on his studies there, he moved to Miami to study electronics at Miami Lakes Educational Center. 

Lagos is owed housing allowance (BAH) payments for the entire month of September, and one half of August. Lagos is also missing his $500 book stipend each student veteran receives at the beginning of the semester. 

Having lived through delays in BAH payments during government shutdowns of years past, Lagos has a financial cushion, saving a bit. Still, the money he was expecting has yet to hit his account. Luckily for him, he lives at home and gets a break from his parents on rent and other expenses, especially since the mistake is due to no fault of his own. 

Photo Courtesy of Erin Lagos

“I have a little leeway, but two years ago I was going to marine mechanics school…that’s how I learned you need to have some money saved,” he says. “But even if they’re late your landlord doesn’t care at the first of the month.” 

Where it stands now, Lagos says he’s resorting to borrowing money from family so he can pay for food, his rent and phone bill, and other expenses. 

Miami Lakes tells Lagos they have submitted all the required paperwork, but have offered little guidance to him and others in the same situation. “It’s a technical college, and they don’t have that many veterans,” adds Lagos. His tuition bills aren't in question, as the VA has reimbursed that amount.  What they haven't paid is the stipend he depends on for his living expenses in his last semester

It became clear that something was up this semester when he started seeing news reports at the end of September about the overabundance of GI Bill mistakes. Lagos has called the VA educational benefits line for any information, but “they don’t really tell you anything,” he says. 

Photo by Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS

Neither officials at the VA nor at his school have been able to provide him a timeline of when he can expect the $3,659. 

VA spokesperson Terrence Hays tells Connecting Vets in an email “VA’s educational claim processing times are slightly higher than normal,” because of an increased volume and technology changes to implement the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act —dubbed the Forever GI Bill, which was signed into law last year.

“VA’s goal is to process original education claims in 28 days and supplemental education claims in 14 days, while VA’s current Fiscal Year To Date (FYTD) timeliness is 33.1 days for original claims and 23.7 days for supplemental claims,” says Hayes.

Officials say employees are working “mandatory overtime” and the agency had added 202 people to reduce processing times.

“VA recognizes timely receipt of the housing allowance is crucial for Post-9/11 GI Bill students and makes every effort to provide these payments quickly,” adds Hayes. “A student will not receive a housing payment for enrollments beginning in August until September, and the stipend for September is not paid until the beginning of October.”

Lagos is missing payments for August and September.  Hayes declined to say how many student veterans are affected.

Student Veterans of America sent VA Secretary Wilkie a letter last month expressing urgency to get student veterans their delayed GI Bill payments. 

When he graduates, Lagos hopes to combine his two degrees to work in the boating industry in South Florida. “I joined the Navy, I love being on the water, I love the boats, so this is just kind of my thing.” 

Like other veterans right now, he’s just waiting to get the cash that’s rightfully his. 

Veterans experiencing financial hardship can call VA’s customer service line at 888-442-4551.

To learn more about the Post-9/11 GI Bill, click here, or call 1-888-442-4551 to speak to a VA educational counselor.

    Contact us about this article or share your story at gethelp@connectingvets.com.