On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) said that it would push back until 2020 spring semester the rollout of a Forever GI Bill provision that dictated a shift in how the monthly housing allowance for recipients is calculated. The decision comes after complaints throughout the fall semester of housing payment delays and improper payments. The agency was supposed to have made the change on August 1.
VA officials said that until the rollout it would calculate the housing allowance based on uncapped Defense Department basic housing allowance rates.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie acknowledged when making the announcement that imposing the change during the academic year was "like flying a plane while building it, and that was unfair and frustrating to veterans and taxpayers."
Earlier this month, the U.S. House Veterans' Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the VA's handling of GI Bill claims.
Agency officials summoned to Capitol Hill told the panel that the delays in housing payments were not causing rampant hardships for student veterans, though at the same time they admitted thousands were still waiting for their stipends and the department had received credible complaints from veterans facing eviction, The Stars and Stripes reported.
Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), ranking member of the subcommittee, described the VA's response to the problem as "not very encouraging."
"I think you failed to account for the scope of the problem, minimized the problem and tried to remind us [the Veterans Benefits Administration] is doing great work in many cases," O'Rourke said. "But there's the very real problem that veterans who have earned these benefits are not receiving the payments they need to complete their education."
Throughout the two-hour hearing, lawmakers demanded specific answers, such as when the problems would be fixed and how much the situation was costing taxpayers. They received few clear answers, the Stars and Stripes reported. The hearing ended without the VA offering a cost estimate or a deadline for correcting the problems.
Lawmakers asked the VA to follow up in writing with answers to their questions on costs and a timeframe for the problems to be fixed.
Following the hearing, the VA confirmed that the official leading the implementation of the GI Bill expansion, Education Service Director Robert Worley, would be reassigned to a regional office in Texas, according to the Stars and Stripes.
The Stars and Stripes
The Stars and Stripes