The Department of Veterans Affairs said today it is targeting Dec. 1, 2019–a full year from now–to complete a technical fix to address problems that have plagued the agency’s ability to correctly calculate monthly housing allowance payments under the 2017 Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the “Forever GI Bill.”
The VA has faced significant criticism and congressional scrutiny for delayed payments to veterans because of the tech problems.
Dr. Paul Lawrence, under secretary for benefits at the VA, told House members earlier this month that the Forever GI Bill requires the agency to develop new software which changes the way that monthly housing allowances are paid, and that “development and deployment of the new software has not gone as planned.” He said VA was preparing for the possibility that it might not have the new software ready for the spring 2019 semester.
In today’s announcement, the department said that because of “continued information technology difficulties” with implementing two sections of the law related to the way that monthly housing allowance payments are calculated, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) will reset its implementation efforts “to give the department the time, contracting support and resources necessary to develop the capability to process Spring 2020 enrollments in accordance with the law by December 1, 2019.”
Until then, VBA will pay monthly housing allowance rates “for the Post-9/11 GI Bill at the current academic year uncapped Department of Defense (DoD) Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) rates,” which VA said for many students will be equal to or higher than their current payment. It also said VBA will correct retroactively any underpayments that resulted from problems implementing the new software, and won’t hold liable any student who was overpaid.
“As these changes are implemented, VBA will remain in continuous contact with Veterans, Congress, Veterans Service Organizations and other stakeholders to ensure everyone is informed and knows what to expect,” VA said.
“Redesigning the way VBA calculates Post 9/11 GI Bill housing rates during a busy academic season was like flying a plane while building it, and that was unfair and frustrating to Veterans and taxpayers,” commented VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a statement, “That’s why we are resetting our implementation of the law for the next year to ensure we get the technology and formula right to put Veterans first,” he said.