By Terry Howell
When the Post-9/11 GI Bill was first signed into law the general consensus was that it was the greatest benefit package since the advent of the original GI Bill in 1944. And, on balance it is. Among other benefits, the Post-9/11 GI Bill offers veterans the opportunity to earn a degree without having to pay any tuition, it offers a generous living stipend which can be as much $2,800 a month, and book stipend of up to $1000 a year.
However, this new benefit program has not been without its issues. Chief among these is a series of glitches which have resulted in late payments, over and under payments, emergency advance payments, and most recently, an error-ridden recoupment process.
All of these glitches are the symptoms of trying to force a complicated 21st century benefits program into a 20th century manual process. Not that the Department of Veterans Affairs has not made some errors while getting this program online, but the issues with implementation are the result of congressional pressure to launch a program before the infrastructure was in place to handle it.
Some Good News
The VA will soon reach their next implementation milestone which will enable them to use their new automation to process eligibility claims and make changes to existing claims more quickly and efficiently.
In addition, Keith Wilson, director of VA’s education service, is reporting that an audit by the VA Inspector General is looking into the payment issues and hopes to sort out the payment and recoupment issues soon. The final millstone for the implementation project is set for December, 31 of this year. The hope is that once the new automation process reaches it full stride veterans will rarely see the type of payment problems they are currently experiencing.
Many veterans, school representatives, and veterans’ groups have pointed out that there are several major issues, which are not related to the glitch ridden implementation process. For example, under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, distance learning students (online and correspondence) are not eligible to receive the living stipend; vocational and technical training programs are limited and on-the-job training is not covered; transferability is limited to current servicemembers; Guardsman only earn time toward the benefit if they are under title 10 orders; and tuition and fee payment rates are too complicated and tend to price private schools and graduate programs out of the equation for many veterans.
The American Council on Education (ACE) recently held the ‘Veterans Succes Jam’ – a three-day online chat session – in an effort to surface the issues being faced by veteran students and identify possible fixes for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Their final results and detailed reccomendations are currently being tabulated, but, preliminary results show that most critics of the new GI Bill would like to see Congress take action to fix the GI Bill as soon as possible.
Since 2008, several fixes to the GI Bill have been offered in both the House and Senate, yet none have gotten any traction. This year, being a mid-term election year, holds what some consider the last promise for substantive change and improvement for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.