NAICU Washington Update

VA Still Working on Plan to Fix GI Bill Benefits

May 28, 2019

Congress continued its oversight of the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its ongoing difficulties with the implementation of Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits for student veterans.  The House Veterans Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and Subcommittee on Technology Modernization recently held a joint subcommittee hearing to get a better understanding of where the Department is in terms of alleviating the payment problems that have been lingering for months.

A bill was enacted at the end 2018 requiring the VA to have the payment system fixed within three months, with a report to Congress on how it was handled due by December 2019.  So far, the VA has missed the March Congressional deadline to have the payment system fixed.

Subcommittee leaders shared their concerns about a lack of leadership at the VA and that there is no clear leader of the Post 9-11 GI Bill project.  Other concerns raised during the hearing were that the VA stumbles over itself with implementation and that aging, inadequate information technology systems have caused lengthy delays in fixing the GI Bill payment issues.  The subcommittees heard from the Under Secretary for Veteran Benefits Administration (VBA), the Office of the Inspector General, and MITRE, a contractor asked to do an independent technology assessment of the VA benefits systems.

The VA now has a new contract with Accenture to modernize the certification and payment system, and has given itself a deadline of December 1, 2019 for completion.

A key moment during the hearing came when Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) asked Charmain Bogue, acting executive director at VBA, a series of direct questions to try and uncover the size and scope of the problem with student veteran benefits claims, and the plan VBA has to remedy the situation, including the cost to the federal government.  Bogue responded that they are working with the ten schools with the greatest amount of student veteran benefits to figure out how big the problem is, and are building a plan to fix it. Rep. Luria, who was expecting a more detailed action plan, was surprised at the answer and asked two more times for her to clarify the specific next steps VBA plans to take. 

Finally, Bogue said when the new system is in place, and they flip the switch on December 1, three things will happen.  First, the DOD rates will be implemented, next the spring 2020 enrollment will be handled, and finally, the benefit claims made between August 2018 and December 2019 will be corrected. Re-computations will need to be done in the new system, and the VA will work with schools and students to get claims corrected.

Subcommittee members urged the VA to engage in a communications campaign that includes email, letters, webinars, and social media to ensure students and schools are aware of the system changes and how they can remedy their benefits claims.

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