A bipartisan group of Congressmen are calling for Department of Veteran’s Affairs Inspector General to investigate allegations made by veterans that the VA is refusing to reimburse them for unpaid and underpaid benefits under the Forever GI Bill, according to the Hill.
Senators John Boorman and Brian Schatz, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, respectively, sent a letter along with nine other Congressmen to the Inspector General asking for the investigation after dissatisfaction with results under VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
The issue stems from problems related to updating the technology of the VA computer network. President Trump signed housing allowances into the GI Forever Bill last year, which the VA computer systems were unable to calculate and process. The VA announced Wednesday that the technology issues would delay housing allowance changes to next year. However, Congressional aides learned that the VA was not planning to retroactively reimburse underpaid veterans once the system is fixed without first completing a detailed and prolonged audit. Hundreds of thousands of veterans were underpaid their benefits after those benefits had already been delayed by the software issues.
IMPORTANT: This morning, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced immediate changes in processing Forever GI Bill payments, which will correct any remaining tuition and housing payments for Fall 2018 and ensure timely payments for Spring 2019. https://t.co/psTcqBufCI
— Student Veterans (@studentvets) November 28, 2018
“When I brought the issue of GI Bill underpayments up to VA Secretary [Robert] Wilkie during a hearing in September, he acknowledged the VA’s error and promised that all affected recipients would be compensated,” Boozman wrote. “When recent news reports suggested the VA was not acting to help veterans who have been shortchanged, the department outlined its plans to remedy the situation. Those plans fall short. These veterans must be fully repaid for errors they did not cause and that is what I expect the VA to do.”
“Secretary Wilkie may be saying the right things, but until the VA invests money to address the ongoing staffing and IT challenges facing the claims backlog, our veterans will remain robbed of the benefits they were promised,” Schatz added. “I expect the Secretary to come up with a plan so that the VA can audit and process retroactive payments for underpaid or missed claims. And I look forward to the Inspector General helping us hold him accountable to that plan.”
“The VA’s continued ambiguity about whether it will fulfill this legal requirement threatens to erode our veterans’ confidence in the VA’s ability to deliver promised care and benefits and demands close oversight and accountability,” the letter continues. “It is important that VA fix the technical and staffing shortages that contributed to its inability to implement the Forever GI bill so that it can continue to provide housing stipends to veterans.”
The VA released a statement on Thursday that said it would rectify the issue and that it had no intention of withholding any benefits from veterans who were underpaid. “Each and every Veteran on the post-9/11 GI Bill will be made 100 percent whole — retroactively if need be — for their housing benefits for this academic year based on the current uncapped DoD rates, and, beginning in spring 2020, we [will] be in a position to provide Veterans the new rates where applicable to meet the law known as the Forever GI Bill.”