Martin C. Evans

New GI Bill too much for VA to handle

In GI Bill on December 15, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Young Choi, a Navy veteran, enrolled at C.W. Post this August under the post-9/11 GI Bill. (Newsday photo)

The VA is choking on the post 9/11 GI Bill, forcing student veterans to cough up their own money to pay for studies.

Some 26,000 college-enrolled veterans who are owed GI Bill tuition, housing and book stipends for this semester still haven’t gotten their money, according to the chair of the congressional House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel.

Under the post-9/11 GI Bill signed into law in July by President Obama, veterans who served after Sept. 10, 2001 are eligible for VA tuition grants equal to the cost of the most expensive public college in a veteran’s home state. They also receive a monthly housing grant, plus money for books.

But the program, which kicked in Aug. 1, has badly overwhelmed VA administrators who already have boosted the number of claims processors.

As of Nov. 30, the VA had 62,735 claims pending, according to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for administration the education grant program.

VA officials in August were saying it took an average of 28 days for them to process claims. Now, the average is 47 days, with many taking much longer.

Congress members have said the backlog is particularly alarming – students were supposed to get their money before classes began – because this semester is ending and new claims covering next semester have begun pouring in.

The delay has been especially hard on students who depend on the grants to pay rents. Some have borrowed money or moved in with parents. Others have elected to defer their education and look for work instead – a daunting challenge given the current bleak economy.

Members of the congressional committee are urging the VA to devote more processing resources to speed claims. They are also pushing the VA to do a better job of informing veterans of education benefits to which they are entitled.

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