Baucus, Tester applaud VA response to GI bill payment delays
Senators Contacted the VA about Montanans Not Receiving Post-9/11 GI Bill Payments in Timely Manner
(Washington, D.C.) – Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester applauded the Department of Veterans Affairs for its decision to rectify delayed Post-9/11 GI Bill payments to Montana veterans.
The VA announced yesterday that checks up to $3,000 will be issued starting on October 2 to students waiting on their government educational benefits payment. The checks are advance payments to help students cover books and housing and the amount will be deducted from future education payments, which will arrive on the normal schedule.
Baucus and Tester were alarmed that veterans seeking higher education in Montana are being forced to take out loans or pay out of pocket for school costs that the VA promised to cover. At the University of Montana alone, approximately 200 veterans have applied for educational assistance under the G.I. bill, while only 17 have received payments.
In a letter recently sent to Secretary Eric Shinseki, the Senators pointed out that the VA has had more than a year to prepare to make the Post-9/11 GI Bill payments. Baucus and Tester offered to provide any additional resources the VA may need to improve the payment process.
“I was a strong supporter of increasing the GI bill benefits to adjust for the high costs of universities today and make it possible for thousands of veterans to receive a college education,” said Baucus, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. “It is crucial that those who have given so much to our country are granted their hard-earned benefits in a timely, fair manner.”
“The VA made the right call here. The folks who have served our country are our heroes,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “They dedicated themselves to our country and we need to support them when they leave the military and pursue the education opportunities they have earned.”
Students waiting on VA benefits should contact the Fort Harrison VA Regional Benefits Office to request advance payments.
Text of Letter:
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20420
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We write to express concern about the delayed payment of Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to eligible veterans. We would like to request information about how your Department plans to address this critical issue.
We were proud supporters of the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. As you know, the bill makes it possible for thousands of veterans to go to college, and it accounts for the high cost of a college education in the 21st Century. It is crucial that those who have given so much to our country promptly receive the hard-earned benefits they were promised.
We are troubled to learn that hundreds of veterans seeking higher education in Montana have experienced delays in receiving payments from the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill program. For example, at the University of Montana, approximately 200 veterans have applied for educational assistance under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, but the VA has provided tuition assistance for only 17. Montana State University has reported similar delays. There, 138 students have applied for benefits, while the VA has provided tuition assistance for only 42. At the University of Great Falls, twenty students have applied for Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits while only two have received tuition assistance. This lag creates enormous hardship for the university and considerable uncertainty for the veteran. It also suggests that more than 200 veterans have not yet received housing and stipend payments, which puts greats financial pressure on the veteran and their families.
These delays are certainly not limited to Montana’s student veterans. According to a recent report in the New York Times, approximately 277,000 veterans and their eligible relatives have applied for assistance under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill program, while roughly 20,000 eligible beneficiaries have received tuition payments. A recent press release from your department stated that the VA’s current average claims processing time for Post-9/11 G.I. Bill claims is 35 days and acknowledged that more than 72,000 claims had yet to even be processed – the first step in making payments to schools and providing stipends to our veterans.
The men and women who so courageously served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve better. These delayed payments are forcing veterans to unexpectedly take out loans or pay out-of-pocket for costs the VA had promised to cover. The late payments have caused veterans financial hardship when they should be receiving nothing but unwavering support. These brave men and women have fought for our country under the toughest of circumstances. We shouldn’t make them fight to receive their hard-earned benefits as well.
The VA has had more than a year to prepare to make Post-9/11 G.I. Bill payments and should have been better prepared to distribute them. If there are any resources that are needed to improve the delivery of these benefits, we stand ready to work with our colleagues in Congress to provide them.
Please provide a description of the steps your department is taking to address this critical issue, including a timeline for when the 72,000 pending claims will be a processed, and a date by which the VA will achieve its stated goal of processing initial claims within 25 days. Thank you very much for your prompt attention to this request.
Senator Max Baucus and Senator Jon Tester