After severe payment delays for thousands of student veterans expecting money for housing from the Veterans Affairs Department in the fall semester, student vets planning to use the education benefit in the spring should get their money on time — even if those payments aren’t yet 100 percent accurate.
The longer-than-usual wait times stemmed from technology challenges as the VA tried — and failed — to implement portions of the Forever GI Bill by the Aug. 1 deadline. However, VA officials recently announced they’re pushing back implementation to Dec. 1, 2019, freeing up resources to get students paid on time.
“Redesigning the way [the Veterans Benefits Administration] calculates Post-9/11 GI Bill housing rates during a busy academic season was like flying a plane while building it, and that was unfair and frustrating to veterans and taxpayers,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in November. “That’s why we are resetting our implementation of the law for the next year to ensure we get the technology and formula right to put veterans first.”
At issue are two provisions in the Forever GI Bill, signed into law in 2017, that change the way housing stipends are to be calculated. One provision brings housing stipends for new students in line with what the Department of Defense pays E-5s with dependents living in the same location, which is actually an approximate 1-percent decrease from the VA’s own housing payment rates.
The other, and most challenging, provision states that students should get paid based on the location where they take the most classes, and not where the main campus of their school is located.
The VA is seeking a new tech contractor for the project and hopes to have these changes in place by next December, in time for the spring 2020 semester.
Meanwhile, come January, students who received housing stipends in fall 2018 should receive checks for any underpayments, and the VA will pay housing stipends as the department had previously: based on a school’s main campus at the VA’s higher housing rate.
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.