House VA Committee Holds Hearing to Review IT Systems and GI Bill Claims
February 25, 2013
On February 14, the Economic Opportunity subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing focusing on the processing of Post-9/11 GI Bill claims. Specifically, the hearing addressed VA's Long Term Solution (LTS), the system developed to handle the complex Post-9/11 claims process.
In his opening remarks, Chairman Bill Flores (R-TX) described the history and need for the LTS, noting that the existing systems used to process the old Montgomery GI Bill would not adequately meet the needs of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. While VA is continuing to improve the LTS, Flores commented that "without making the system and its information more accessible to veterans and schools, it is not complete." Flores asked for "a robust analysis function to enable VA and Congress to make better-informed decisions on education and training benefits in the future." While VA has spent $286 million on LTS so far, there is much work to be done, explained Flores.
The first panel of witnesses, including representatives from the Student Veterans of America (SVA), the National Association of Veterans Program Administrators (NAVPA), and the Student Veterans Advocacy Group (SVAG) shared experiences from the perspective of veterans and institutions.
Kim Hall, vice president of NAVPA and veterans program administrator at Humboldt State University, shared testimony that addressed many of NACUBO's concerns. NAVPA would like to see consistent policy communication from VA. Additionally, Hall asked for improved technology for institutions inputting data, primarily the ability to use batch uploads and the elimination of paper correspondence mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. NAVPA is also concerned about school debts being referred to the Treasury Department for offset.
Michael Dakduk, executive director of SVA, expressed a concern over the lack of real-time information being provided to student veterans through the LTS. SVA has repeatedly requested the development of a "secure, web-based single portal system that allows student veterans to see the status of their GI Bill claims in real-time." This would be especially helpful to students, as Dakduk described long waiting times for veterans trying to get information through the GI Bill telephone hotline. Sometimes after a lengthy wait, Dakduk testified, the automated system instructs student veterans to call back at a later time. SVA repeated NAVPA's request for a more streamlined certification process.
The second panel of witnesses included Roger Baker, VA assistant secretary for information and technology, and Robert Worley, director of VA education services. Baker reported that it now takes VA an average of seven days to process supplemental GI Bill claims with its automation systems, down from 14 days in 2012, and 19 days in 2011. The error rate in processing is around 1 percent, Baker noted.
During the hearing, Chairman Flores asked several of the witnesses, including Worley, if transitioning to a payment method similar to that used under the Montgomery GI Bill, where benefits are paid on a monthly basis directly to the veterans, would make it easier to administer the program. Worley commented that it would simplify the debt issue, and that he would be "willing to work with the committee on a proposal along those lines." Others were not sure whether such a change would be helpful or might cause other problems.
While not asked to testify at the hearing, NACUBO did submit written testimony for the record with the following recommendations:
- Create a system that allows batch uploads.
- Revisit the definition of a term.
- Improve communications.
- Halt debt collection via the Treasury Offset Program.
- Maintain the current policy to exempt tuition and fee payments from offset.
Copies of witness testimony, along with a video recording of the hearing, can be found on the committee website.
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Members are encouraged to join NACUBO's VA Processes eGroup. This community, similar to a listserv, allows members to share questions, issues, concerns, and success stores related to administering VA programs.
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