Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect additional information provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Sommona Ada is a graduate student at the University of North Texas who’s been paying for school with the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits she earned after 11 years in the U.S. Air Force and reserves.
But Ada hasn’t been able to re-enroll in classes for the next eight-week term at the UNT Health Science Center because the Department of Veterans Affairs hasn’t paid her bill. Nor has she received her housing stipend since January, she said.
Ada is one of approximately 11,000 beneficiaries who have been impacted by processing delays at the VA. Department officials said the delays stem from an internal quality audit that required a review of approximately 14,000 already-processed claims that started in late December.
"These reviews require a significant increase in the number of inquiries VA has had to make with DoD service departments for information about individual training dates and service times," according to an emailed statement from the department.
"This is a significant workload that will take time to work through," the statement said, adding that the department does not have an estimated completion time. "VA is working with DoD and is making every effort to minimize the effect of this review to our GI Bill beneficiaries."
It took an average of 24.5 days for the department to process original claims and 10.3 days for supplemental claims in February – slightly higher than the VA’s current fiscal year average of 20.2 days for original claims and 8.1 days for supplemental claims. A department spokesperson said the VA is still meeting or exceeding its timeliness goals for the fiscal year.
As of 2015, more than 790,500 students were using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to pay for school tuition, fees and housing.
Processing delays at the VA are nothing new, said Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy group Student Veterans of America. In the past, he said, the VA has been proactive about addressing such issues, and he’s glad to see that the department posted a notice of the delays on Facebook Friday.
The delays aren’t affecting a large percentage of the total number of users, Hubbard said.
"The scope of it is not widespread panic or anything like that, which is good," he said, noting that the organization has not heard complaints from its student veteran members.
"Obviously, we’re concerned," he added. "We’re keeping our ear to the ground. The hundreds of thousands of veterans in our chapters always known that they can reach out to us if there’s any issues."
As for Ada, she said she waited on hold twice for 45 minutes when she tried calling the VA about her unpaid school bill. After sending proof of her military service, including her deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, at employees’ request, she was told they couldn’t help her and that she may have better luck by calling her Congressman, she said.
"It’s been about three months since my school hasn’t gotten paid. It’s ridiculous that we’re going through this," she said. "This is serious. This is people’s lives."