VA Wants Emergency GI Bill Payouts Back

The Veterans Affairs Department is seeking to recoup $3,000 emergency payments sent last year to about 80,000 people whose Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits were delayed — including some active-duty members who were not supposed to get the checks.

If the $3,000 checks were never cashed, they can simply be returned, VA officials said.
If they were cashed, the $3,000 must be repaid either through reductions in spring semester GI Bill benefits for those who are attending school or by direct payments to VA for those who are not enrolled.

People who got the payments, considered by VA to be advance pay of benefits, will be contacted about repayment options, officials said.

Advance payments were issued from October through the end of December as an emergency measure after student veterans complained that delays in approving claims under the complex new program were leaving them unable to afford college. Student veterans advocates reported some students were paying out of their own pockets or considering dropping out of school.

When VA officials announced the $3,000 payments, some congressional staffers raised concerns about the possibility of fraud and error. Paying people before certifying their eligibility and before they enrolled in qualified courses — two key steps of the claims process — would open the door to overpayments, House aides warned.

Those concerns were overruled, however, when it became clear to VA officials that they would not be able to process claims in less than 30 days, the original goal, which guaranteed that student veterans who were counting on living stipends would not get them on time.

Active-duty service members, who are eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, were not meant to be eligible for advance payments, but some received them anyway.

The payments were aimed at covering monthly living stipends available to student veterans carrying more than a 50 percent course load, something not available to active-duty members who already receive either housing or a housing allowance from the military.

But VA officials did not clearly indicate that active-duty members did not qualify for advance payments until December, creating a situation in which some active-duty members — the exact number is unknown — received payments that will have to be fully repaid.

The $3,000 advance payments were discontinued at the end of the fall term, and VA officials have no plans to provide them for the spring term because they believe they have the claims process under control.

VA has received about 132,000 spring enrollment applications and has processed more than 105,000.

ARMY TIMES

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