The VA is once again experiencing growing pains while trying to implement changes to the GI Bill.
A major part of the GI Bill was changed by a law passed more than 12 months ago, and despite being supposed to take effect on August 1, hasn't happened.
The provisions are part of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, or "Forever GI Bill" since one of the major items included in the law eliminated the time limit for veterans to use their GI Bill.
Location Based Housing Allowance Not Being Paid
Another part of the law, which was called for by many veterans groups changed the way that GI Bill recipients are paid their Monthly Housing Allowance. Previously, GI Bill users were paid the housing allowance based on the main campus of the school they were attending. This often led to inequity since many schools have several campuses in different cities where the housing costs can vary wildly.
For example, the University of Illinois has its main campus in Champaign-Urbana where the Monthly Housing Allowance is $1,023. It also has a campus in Chicago where the Monthly Housing Allowance is $1,929. A veteran using their GI Bill at the Chicago campus would be entitled to more than $1,000 a month under the new provisions of the law.
Of course, this works both ways. Northern Virginia Community College main campus housing allowance is $2,367 each month while one of its satellite campuses has a housing allowance of only $1,764 each month.
Nevertheless, the VA hasn't implemented the mandated change, and as a result is not paying the housing allowance based on the actual location of the campus a veteran is attending.
Everyone's Housing Allowance is Affected
The GI Bill's Monthly Housing Allowance is based on the military's E-5 with dependents Basic Allowance for Housing. This amount changes every January to reflect the actual cost a service member pays for civilian housing. The VA updates their GI Bill housing allowance to reflect this change in the following August, the beginning of what is known as the "academic year", or "school year".
Well, as a result of the SNAFU surrounding the implementation of location based GI Bill Housing Allowance, all GI Bill recipients who are due for an increase of their Monthly Housing Allowance still haven't received it. The Cost-of-Living adjustment normally seen in August has been held back for everyone while the VA figures out how to implement legislation that was passed more than a year ago and affects only a small portion of veterans.
According to veteran's groups, this means that more than 300,000 veterans are left in the lurch and remain underpaid due to VA's inability to implement year-old legislation.
VA Says It Will Fix Problems
In July, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Worley, director of VA's education service, and Lloyd Thrower, deputy chief information officer at the VA's Office of Information & Technology testified to congress that they expected the housing allowance problems to be cleared up by mid-August.
While that date came and went over a month ago, the housing allowance is still not being paid correctly for nearly half of the veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The VA hasn't publicly said anything about the delay other than their testimony to congress in July.
The VA has told us that many internal policy changes had to be made to implement the new law and that software problems leading to the delay are being corrected and testing is ongoing. No timeline has been given for a conclusion. The housing allowance increase from 2017 to 2018 averages less than 1 percent and all those affected will get back pay.
VA also says that those attending a campus which gets a lower housing allowance then the main campus, and are therefore getting more money than they are entitled to won't have to pay back any housing allowance overpayments they may receive.
VA's Problems Nothing New
Of course, these problems are nothing new to those of us who follow the GI Bill.
When the Post-9/11 GI Bill was enacted in 2009, delays were so bad that the VA sent specialists to every benefits office to write emergency checks for up to $3,000 for veterans who had waited up to 4 months for their money.
In 2012 and 2014, when more legislative changes were implemented, tens of thousands of veterans reported waiting until mid-November to receive payments for classes which began in August.
According to some estimates, the VA has spent over $800 million in implementing IT changes for the Post-9/11 GI Bill since its inception 10 years ago. VA has made it a big selling point to congress that the software they use is based on what is known as "agile technology" which encourages rapid and flexible response to changes.