Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include additional information from the VA.
It’s nearly October, and the fall semester at colleges across the country is already in full swing.
Yet because of technical problems, about 360,000 GI Bill users are still receiving the wrong amount of money for their housing stipends.
Under the Forever GI Bill, signed into law by President Trump last year, the VA was supposed to change the way it calculates monthly housing stipends for students attending classes at a location other than their school’s main campus, starting Aug. 1. Payments were also supposed to reflect the same 2018 rate that an active-duty E-5 with dependents would receive for housing.
These changes required significant updates for the VA’s Office of Information and Technology, which encountered “several critical errors” during testing, VA spokesman Curt Cashour said in an email.
Rather than move forward with a flawed system, the VA has told schools to certify students’ GI Bill claims under the old rules, resulting in inaccurate payments to about 360,000 of the 392,459 currently using GI Bill benefits.
While Cashour said the VA is “working diligently to resolve the outstanding issues and deploy the software solution as soon as possible,” he did not provide an expected completion date.
Michelle Reitze, assistant vice president in the Veterans Certification Office at the University of Maryland University College, said some students may not even realize that they’re not receiving the right amount on their housing stipend, because it matches what they received last year or because the difference is small.
The monthly housing allowance rate increased by less than 1 percent between 2017 and 2018, on average, according to Cashour.
Where things could get hairy is after the VA software is up and running, when schools will likely have to rerun students’ claims to ensure they receive what they’re owed retroactively, Reitze said. She emphasized that she was speaking based on her own experience and not on behalf of UMUC.
Advocates for veterans in higher education wrote in a letter to VA Sec. Robert Wilkie earlier this month that incorrect payments “are asking veterans, their families, and schools to bear the burden of VA’s problems.” The organizations, which include AMVETS, Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Student Veterans of America and 11 others, called for correct and prompt payments, greater communication to students, and reassurance on payment discrepancies.
The VA has said it will correct any discrepancies between what students were paid and what they should have been paid once the software updates are live. If students are overpaid, “no debts will be collected as those amounts will be waived as administrative errors” and students will be paid the correct amount going forward.
Natalie Gross has been reporting for Military Times since 2017. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.