A while back, Congress passed a new GI Bill to improve on the benefits due to veterans that were in the post-9/11 GI Bill. The new bill is called the Forever GI Bill. But in recent months it has become apparent that the VA was falling short on their duty to pay the required education and housing benefits under the new GI Bill that were due to our post 9/11 veterans.
As a result Paul Lawrence, the man who oversees the Veterans Benefits Administration, was called before a Congressional committee in open hearings on this issue on this past Thursday. The day before the hearing VA officials had indicated privately to Congressional staffers that they would not retroactively pay veterans who had received checks from the VA that were short of what they were actually owed because of a computer problem at the VA.
Before the Congressional committee, Lawrence made that same argument that the VA computer system was to blame for the shorted checks that post-9/11 veteran students were receiving.
According to an NBC News report, when repeatedly challenged by Congressmen from both sides of the aisle with this, he told the committee that going back to inspect potentially hundreds of thousands of education claims could be a, “tremendous amount of activity for no gain.”
This did not sit well with the Congressmen from either party. They continued to pressure him for a better answer to the question. I actually watched part of these hearings on C-SPAN on Thursday and could not believe the casualness that Lawrence demonstrated in the face of the Congressional criticism he was receiving. As one who benefitted from the GI Bill after Vietnam, I know how important it was in enabling me to get my college degrees.
The veterans of our post-9/11 wars are just as worthy of those benefits as past veterans were. It bothered me immensely that this problem of not meeting the requirements of payments due to veterans under the Forever GI Bill was being casually relegated to a “computer problem” and worse that the shorting of housing benefits under the Forever GI Bill would not be rectified.
Apparently, and thankfully, it did not sit well with the Congressmen either.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
With the new Forever GI Bill, hopefully veterans will never again have to worry about their futures.
Their pressure on Lawrence and on the VA worked, because later in the day, VA Secretary, Robert Wilke, issued a statement saying that, “Although VA has encountered issues with implementing the Forever GI Bill on Congress’ timeline, we will work with lawmakers to insure that—once VA is in a position to process education claims in accordance with the new law—each and every beneficiary will receive retroactively the exact benefits to which they are entitled under that law”.
Wilke then added to that statement saying, “To clear up any confusion, I want to make it clear that each and every post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiary will be made 100% whole—retroactively if need be—for their housing benefits for this academic year based on the Forever GI BIll rates, not on post-9/11 rates.”
Those veterans who have fought and supported the combat efforts since 9/11 deserve to receive all the benefits that have been provided to them by the new Forever GI Bill. That the VA has had computer issues does not relieve it from its responsibilities toward its constituency.
I am glad to see that Secretary Wilke is putting pressure on his administrators in the VA to do whatever is necessary to meet the required benefits that are codified in the new Forever GI BIll. We will look forward to hearing that the VA has fixed this problem and met its responsibilities toward our nation’s newest veterans.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.