VA Says New 'Forever GI Bill' Finally Ready for Launch Aug. 1 … Mostly

Airman Dalton Shank, 5th Bomb Wing Public Affairs broadcast journalist apprentice, reads pamphlets on the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., March 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Alyssa M. Akers)
Airman Dalton Shank, 5th Bomb Wing Public Affairs broadcast journalist apprentice, reads pamphlets on the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., March 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Alyssa M. Akers)

The benefits under the new "Forever GI Bill" will be ready to go into effect Aug. 1, with the exception of a few IT glitches on housing allowances, Department of Veterans Affairs officials said Wednesday.

"We hit the ground running and we haven't slowed down" on implementing the bill, but the technology was not quite ready to handle two provisions in the complicated formula for housing allowances, said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Worley, director of education services at the VA.

"This is a complex, heavy-lift effort," he said at a hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. "It is, of course, absolutely critical that we get these changes right."

Worley and Lloyd Thrower, deputy chief information officer at the VA's Office of Information & Technology, said they expect the housing allowance problems to be cleared up by mid-August.

Housing allowance underpayments for veterans will eventually be made whole, they said.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, asked whether veterans would be able to keep any overpayments on housing allowances. "That's correct," Worley said. "The VA would consider that an administrative error on the VA's part."

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, dubbed the "Forever GI Bill" and named for the American Legion national commander who drafted the original GI Bill after World War II, was passed last year with bipartisan support. President Donald Trump signed the bill last August at his estate in Bedminster, New Jersey.

The bill's main provision removes the 15-year time limit for the use of education benefits under the existing GI Bill and makes it a lifetime benefit.

The bill also includes increases in GI Bill funding for reservists and guardsmen, dependents, surviving spouses and surviving dependents; provides 100 percent GI Bill eligibility to post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients; restores eligibility for service members whose schools closed in the middle of a semester; and increases aid for veterans pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees.

"We made very good progress to date" on implementing the bill, although the VA missed the initial July 16 launch date, Worley said. "We have a handful of defects left" to correct. However, "We have the data in place that we need for [Aug. 1], and we're ready to go.

"We expect a wave of enrollments to come in between now and the early part of the fall, so that will be an increased workload, and that's why we have more people and overtime scheduled and those kinds of things," he said. "We will need to do some reworks for enrollments that come in between now and mid-August."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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