Despite Promises, GI Bill Payments Still Wrong

The Veterans Affairs Department still has not fixed problems with living stipends being paid to veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, some of whom continue to be underpaid by hundreds of dollars a month.

While VA officials did not respond to repeated questions about the problem, sources said the department is planning to make a one-time retroactive payment to student veterans. But it is not clear when these payments will be made and whether students will have to apply for them.

Just how many people receive incorrect payments also is unclear. More than 250,000 student-veterans were using the GI Bill during the fall semester, but many would not be eligible for living stipends because they were taking too few credits or taking all of their credits from distance-learning schools.

Living stipends paid since Jan. 1 are incorrect for most student-veterans because the payments are based on 2009 military housing allowance rates, rather than the 2010 rates that took effect Jan. 1.

Not recalculating the living stipend rates was part of a tradeoff in order to make timely tuition payments to colleges and universities after a host of problems in the fall of 2009.
Military housing allowance rates rose an average 2.5 percent in 2010, but in some areas rates increased by as much as 13.5 percent.

VA officials acknowledged in April that they were paying the wrong rates and said they would update the rates and make retroactive payments as soon as they could make changes in the software used to calculate payments.

In April, officials said they thought the corrections and retroactive payments to students would be made as part of a July 1 software upgrade, but sources said rate changes were not made and that VA is now trying to decide when and how to make the corrections.

With the spring term now over for most colleges and universities, VA would have to track down veterans who were paid incorrectly to make retroactive payments. Exactly how this would be done is unclear, and VA officials provided no answers that would help clarify the issue.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, representatives of veterans organizations said they are aware of continuing problems with GI Bill payments and hope these can be resolved before the fall 2010 school term.

“We expect start-up problems, but Aug. 1 marks the one-year anniversary of the start of the Post-9/11 GI Bill,” said a representative of one group. “At some point, VA has to stop blaming the problems of starting up a new program and fix things so there is some level of confidence in student-veterans that they are being paid the right amount.”

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a Wednesday morning hearing about the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but plans call for it to focus on possible improvements to the program, not the continuing problems in making timely and accurate payments.


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