On GI Bill payments, VA says they’ll ‘make those people whole’

Matt Saintsing
November 29, 2018 - 2:11 pm

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The Department of Veterans Affairs pushed back on what they call a “misleading” report from NBC News Wednesday night about how the department will not seek to make veterans whole after a series of technical issues in implementing sections of the “Forever” GI Bill. 

According to NBC News, VA officials told Congressional staffers the department “would not reimburse those veterans who were paid less than they were owed,” despite a promise VA made last month to do just that. 

READ MORE: Here’s why your GI Bill payments are delayed

At a House hearing on Thursday, VA undersecretary for benefits Paul Lawrence pushed back on that report. He told House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) any overpayments would be forgiven, and “underpayments will be adjusted and those veterans will get a check in January.” 

“We’re going to go back to the fall of (2018) and re-compute the payments using the (2018) rates, and we will make those people whole,” he said. 

Anyone currently receiving housing payments through educational benefits this semester is being paid according to the 2017 instructions, which means students’ current housing stipends are based on the physical location of their school’s main campus. This differs from how housing payments under the “Forever” GI Bill are supposed to be calculated, which is based on where they take classes. 

Until next December, housing payments will be changed to reflect the 2018 cost of living increase, and students will ultimately be paid the difference for any mismatches made this fall.

Lawrence did say, however, that “it is not clear what the difference will be” once they fully implement the specific sections of the Forever GI Bill and the agency will have to “assess the burden on schools.” 

“It is not clear there will be any difference” under the new rules, he added. 

The new rules were supposed to be set in motion in August, but on Wednesday the VA delayed the full implementation until December 1, 2019. Any payments made before that date will not be fixed, as it would shift a massive burden onto individual schools.

“It’s not our intention to harm veterans,” said Lawrence. “We have to assess whether it yields benefits or just work.”

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But that answer didn’t satisfy for some lawmakers on the panel.

“You can’t simply change the law itself if you’re unable to meet the obligations your department agreed to,” said Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman. 

Lawrence says the Department doesn’t know how many students will need to be retroactively paid or how much they’ll be owed, adding the final cash amount could very well be zero.

“Is all the processing going to end up with one veteran getting a check for $1?” he asked. 

“The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States was disappointed to learn about the 12-month delay in implementing this amazing benefit, but we recognize why hitting the reset button was necessary in order for the VA to get this right,” said VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence.

“Shifting the implementation deadline a year isn’t a free pass for the VA to arbitrarily pay student veterans less than they are due simply because it was unable to correct internal problems in time.”

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