The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is facing a backlog of nearly 73,000 GI Bill claims, but top officials say student veterans and their schools can expect more timely education and housing benefits payments for the upcoming spring term.
VA officials testified on November 15 before the House Veterans’ Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee about the delays, the result of ongoing technical problems as the VA rolls out its new method for determining student veteran housing benefits.
After the Forever GI Bill became law in 2017, the VA adopted a new approach to determine veterans’ Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA), basing payments on the ZIP code of the individual classes in which a veteran is enrolled, rather than the ZIP code of their primary campus. However, the VA was unable to modify its IT infrastructure to support the change in time for fall semester housing payments, resulting in significant payment delays and the current backlog.
At the hearing, VA representatives assured Congress that the backlog is made up primarily of claims that are less than 60 days old, and that it is taking mitigation steps so that institutions and student veterans could expect more timely tuition and housing payments for the upcoming spring term. The VA does not have a current timeline for updating its IT infrastructure, but VA Undersecretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence said, “VA has begun to develop a strategy and plan for schools to submit both a corrected fall enrollment in those circumstances requiring it, because a student is attending classes at multiple sites, and concurrently submit the student’s spring enrollment…which will assist with timeliness.”
NACUBO, other higher education associations, and institutions have attempted to highlight the VA’s outdated IT infrastructure for years as a stumbling block to providing student veterans with the best possible service. Prior to the November hearing, NACUBO signed on to the American Council on Education’s community letter urging Congress to abandon the new plan to base veterans’ education benefits on class-by-class ZIP code level determinations, encourage the VA to have better communication with colleges and universities, and improve both the GI bill website and the VA IT infrastructure.