Tester criticizes VA for mishandling G.I. Bill overpayments

Senator demands better communication, handling of landmark law

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today criticized the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the way it handles overpayments made to colleges and universities through the new 21st Century G.I. Bill.

The landmark law went into effect last year, paying college tuition, living expenses and books for thousands of Montana veterans who have served on active duty in the military since the terrorist attacks of 2001.

But during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today, Tester said he expects the VA to improve the way it’s implementing the law.

Currently, when the VA sends too much money to colleges and universities to reimburse veterans’ tuitions, the VA directs the schools to refund the 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. 

Montana State University alone received about $10,000 in G.I. Bill overpayments this semester, Tester said, adding the practice “creates more headaches for veterans for no good reason.”  There are many reasons that overpayments can occur, such as a change in the number of credits taken by a veteran, but the veteran is often not aware of the overpayment implications until he or she receives a warning letter from the VA.

“We all agree that this new G.I. bill is a good thing,” Tester today told the VA’s Education Service Director.  “Moving forward, is putting veterans in overpayment status something that the VA is going to continue to do, or are we going to fix that?”

Director Keith Wilson responded by saying the VA “will do everything that we can to put [those students] in a status other than an overpayment status.”

Tester also told the VA it needs to improve its communication with veterans and colleges nationwide.  He criticized the VA for not having any employees in Montana and in other rural areas dedicated to helping veterans secure their higher education benefits through the new G.I. Bill.

 “We’ve got a high percentage of vets that live in rural America,” Tester said.  “There are geographic issues that fall into a state like Montana and other rural areas that need to be addressed, and if we don’t address them, people can’t take full advantage of the benefits that they’ve earned in the service.”

More information about the 21st Century G.I. Bill is available online HERE.