VA approves Tester’s request for improved education payments

Senator keeps pushing for better reimbursement system, says ‘more work needs to be done’

(U.S. SENATE) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to Senator Jon Tester’s request to change the way students repay surplus G.I. Bill benefits —a decision Tester praised while saying more work is still needed to improve the process.

Tester helped write the 21st Century G.I. Bill, which went into effect in 2009 and opens up educational opportunities for veterans who have served since September 11, 2001.

Tester, however, has criticized the VA for frequently over-reimbursing veterans’ tuitions at colleges and universities .  The VA then directs schools to refund students instead of returning the money to the VA.  This means veterans are automatically placed in “overpayment status” by the VA—meaning they are responsible for a debt they are sometimes not even aware of. 

VA policy also required students to repay the VA within a semester, even if the overpayment was the result of a VA clerical error, causing undue economic hardships for thousands of veterans.

In a Senate hearing last year, Tester pushed the VA to improve their system for reimbursements.  He has also raised the issue on multiple occasions with U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, including a letter in March to request a review of the reimbursement process and to provide veterans with sensible, longer term plans for the collection of overpayments.

In a response letter to Tester, the VA announced a change in the process that will allow veterans more time and flexibility in returning overpayments to the VA before becoming responsible for additional debt.

Tester praised the decision but said more work needs to be done—namely a review of whether schools can simply reimburse the VA directly in the event of overpayments.  Tester also urged the implementation of safeguards to ensure the credit records of veterans are not negatively impacted by these policies.

“I appreciate the VA taking Montanans’ concerns and turning them into action so that our veterans can focus on school instead of on needless paperwork,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  “The 21st Century G.I. bill is a critical tool to opening up education and job opportunities for the folks who’ve served this country.  That’s why I fought so hard to pass it, and why I’ll keep fighting to make sure it’s working for veterans in Montana and across the country.”

A copy of Shinseki’s letter to Tester announcing the change in reimbursements to veterans is available on Tester’s website HERE.