Bill Introduced to Ensure Vet ReimbursementsDecember 11, 2018, 9:50 AM HST (Updated December 11, 2018, 9:50 AM)
U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and John Boozman (R-Ark.), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, introduced a bipartisan bill to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs reimburses veterans for missed or underpaid Forever GI Bill housing benefits.
“Secretary Wilkie may be saying the right things, but until the VA has a plan and invests money to address the ongoing staffing and IT challenges facing the claims backlog, our veterans will remain robbed of the benefits they were promised,” said Sen. Schatz. “Our bill will hold the VA accountable and make sure every veteran that was short-changed is made whole.”
“Secretary Wilkie has acknowledged the VA’s error and promised that all affected recipients would be compensated, but the department’s plans to remedy the situation fall short,” said Sen. Boozman. “This bill aims to hold the department accountable to its promise and ensure that veterans are fully repaid for errors they did not cause.”
The bipartisan legislation was introduced to address the VA’s failure to fully comply with reimbursement rates set by the Forever GI Bill. The improper payments resulted from IT systems that had not been properly updated and lack of internal processes to get the VA the necessary information about payment rates.
The VA should have used the Department of Defense’s 2018 Basic Allowance for Housing rates which should have been calculated based on the zip code where the student takes the majority of classes, rather than on the zip code in which the school’s main campus is located. Instead, some GI Bill recipients have been receiving housing stipends at the 2017 rate and based on the school’s zip code. In all cases, the 2018 rate is higher than the 2017 rate.
U.S. Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) joined Schatz and Boozman to introduce the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act, which would require the VA to:
- End improper payments as soon as possible;
- Establish a team of specialists who will be responsible to report to Congress a detailed plan to correct this egregious error;
- Provide a report to Congress by July 2020 that identifies how many beneficiaries were impacted and to what extent, aggregated by state; and
- Certify the department is fully compliant with the law.
“When folks volunteer to serve, our nation makes them a set of promises,” said Sen. Tester. “This bipartisan bill ensures that we live up to those promises. It holds the VA accountable for taking the necessary steps to ensure that every student veteran receives every penny they are entitled in a timely manner, and that efforts on behalf of these veterans will not impact the Department’s ability to deliver timely benefits for other veterans.”
“VA’s contemptible incompetence and inability to provide Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries with timely housing payments is inexcusable,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “Students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill still don’t have a clear understanding of when—and if—they will receive the benefits they have earned. Our legislation will ensure VA takes immediate corrective action to address this crisis while enabling proper oversight to prevent this from ever happening again.”
“Reports of veteran students receiving delayed or inadequate GI Bill payments are concerning, and this misstep should be corrected as soon as possible,” said Sen. Tillis. “While the VA has already started taking important steps to address this ongoing issue, it is important for Congress to continue exercising rigorous oversight to ensure that all GI Bill beneficiaries are made whole.”
“The VA must make every effort to restore confidence with veterans by delivering the care and benefits they have earned,” said Sen. Moran. “The significant problems with the implementation of the Forever GI Bill must be resolved immediately—any further delay is unacceptable and will burden those veterans impacted. This legislation will make certain the VA is working to earn back GI Bill beneficiaries’ trust. I’m proud to be a part of efforts to make the VA worthy of the service and sacrifice of our nations heroes.”