Senate Approves GI Housing Payment Bill

December 19, 2018, 7:38 AM HST (Updated December 19, 2018, 7:38 AM)
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The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act, legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reimburses veterans for missed or underpaid Forever GI Bill housing benefits.

“For many student veterans, every dime counts. That’s why the VA needs to get this right and pay student veterans the full amount of money they were promised,” said Sen. Schatz, the lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. “I’m glad that my colleagues in the Senate saw how important this issue is, and I hope this bill stays on the fast track to becoming law, so we can make this right for our veterans.”

“The swift passage of this legislation shows the Senate’s commitment to ensuring our veterans receive the full benefits they earned,” said Sen. Boozman, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. “We must hold VA accountable for addressing its failure to properly implement housing benefits of the Forever GI Bill. I encourage speedy approval of this bill by the House of Representatives to help assure veterans that this error will be completely corrected.”

Senators introduced the legislation 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.

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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.

The legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

The Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act 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.
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