A veteran in Arizona was resorting to food banks. Others dropped out when they couldn’t pay the rent. A single mother of three children received an eviction notice while pursuing her degree. These are just a few of the stories that college counselors and veterans' support groups heard last semester, as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs struggled to deliver benefits packages to the hordes of students applying for the newly implemented Post-9/11 GI Bill.
But after admittedly being overwhelmed by a deluge of new veterans seeking benefits, VA officials now say they have— for the most part—at least paid veterans their full benefits for the fall semester. The agency processed about $1.5 billion in payments to more than 183,000 veterans in the fall, and there are now fewer than 500 eligible veterans who’ve yet to receive their fall packages, VA officials say.
Struggling with outmoded technology, insufficient staff and a training program that left college counselors confused about how and when to apply for benefits, the VA often took months to provide veterans with the housing and tuition funds to which they were entitled. This spring semester will provide a true test for the VA, which—after months of public scrutiny and the occasional tongue lashing from Congress—is under intense pressure to get it right this time.
For the spring term, the VA has already received 132,000 enrollment certifications from colleges and processed more than 105,000, officials said.
College officials who’ve followed the GI Bill closely say they are optimistic the process will be improved this semester, but there’s no shortage of concern about what some describe as systemic problems with the manner in which benefits are disbursed.
“I think it will go smother than it did. I don’t think it will go as smooth as they’re thinking it will,” said Jennifer Matteson, Coordinator for Academic Certification at Saint Louis University and a board member of the National Association of Veterans Program Administrators.
A letter distributed to the VA’s state directors last month outlines just how smoothly the department is saying the spring will go. The VA has “committed” to paying benefits “no later” than Feb. 1 for any veteran whose college submitted the appropriate materials by Jan. 19. As for materials that come later? Those will be paid at the VA’s “earliest opportunity,” according to Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
(Excerpted from the January 27, 2010 edition of InsideHigherEducation, story by Jack Stripling.)
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