The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has denied scholarships provided by the agency to well over half of the veterans who applied for them to help complete bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields.

According to a recent report, the Rogers STEM Scholarship – intended for veterans who run out of their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits without getting a degree – was only offered to 37 percent of applicants, most of whom were white and male.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that, in the last three years, over 130,000 veterans used the Post-9/11 GI Bill to obtain a degree in STEM. In this same time frame, the report found that only 3,500 veterans were offered the additional STEM scholarship – which covers nine months of education not to exceed $30,000 – once they exhausted their benefits.

Most veterans in this field pursue their higher education in computer sciences, health professions, or engineering, GAO said.

GAO recommended – and VA agreed – that the agency needs to do a better job at communicating with veteran about their Rogers STEM scholarship applications, and collect and use data needed to understand the application denial trends.

“Some of VA’s letters to veterans lack clear information about their applications and how to proceed. These letters can create confusion for veterans about how to obtain the scholarship,” the report says. “Without clearer communication, veterans may not fully understand the program, whether they are eligible for it, or how to apply for funds.”

According to GAO’s research, VA does not collect the data it needs to understand why it denies so many applicants. Additionally, the agency has not yet conducted any analyses to understand the disparities in denial rates.

“GAO’s analysis of VA data shows that the agency denied 63 percent of applications,” the report read. “This analysis also shows that VA denied African American or Black applicants and female applicants at higher rates.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.