The Veterans Affairs Department is more efficiently cutting checks for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to attend college this semester, following a rocky rollout last fall that left veterans so cash-strapped there was concern some wouldn’t re-enroll.
As of Feb. 5, nearly 90 percent of enrollments for the 167,000 veterans submitted to the VA for the Post-9/11 GI Bill had been paid out, the VA said. And it said all those submitted by Jan. 19 were paid.
The new GI Bill was designed to be the most comprehensive benefit for veterans since World War II. Last semester, however, there were so many hiccups that the VA had to issue $3,000 advance checks to 122,000 veterans who needed help with expenses as they waited for their claim to be processed.
Even as the fall semester was wrapping up, thousands of colleges and universities were waiting for tuition reimbursement from the VA and there was concern affected veterans wouldn’t be allowed to enroll for the spring semester by their schools or would drop out of frustration. Amid the problems, there were complaints that calls to a helpline went unanswered, although even now the helpline is only manned Monday to Wednesday.
The VA was able to make processing improvements by hiring new staff and streamlining operations, VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said in an e-mail.
Advocates say they’ve not heard widespread reports of veterans not returning for the spring semester because of GI Bill problems. While there are still complaints about some back pay issues and about the accuracy of payments, "What we’ve seen has been pretty encouraging," said Ryan Gallucci, a spokesman for AMVETS.
Roberts said the VA has processed all claims from last semester if it has all the veteran’s paperwork and there is no outstanding information to verify.
On Feb. 4, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that a more automated system to process new GI Bill claims will be implemented by December. The president’s proposed budget seeks $44 million to help fund the upgrades.
The maximum benefit under the new GI Bill allows eligible veterans to attend a public college or university for free for four years, provides a monthly housing stipend, and up to $1,000 a year for books. Active duty service members can transfer the benefit to immediate family members.
In recent weeks, veterans have been notified that they must begin to pay back the $3,000 advance checks.