Staff Sgt. Brett Rezewski, 92nd Mission Support Squadron personnel technician, browses through brochures for Park University at an education fair at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. A key lawmaker says the Post-9/11 GI Bill could be headed for another claims backlog for the spring semester. (AIRMAN 1st CLASS JOSHUA CHAPMAN / AIR FORCE)
- Filed Under
With the latest numbers showing a still-rising backlog for Post-9/11 GI Bill claims, a key lawmaker says he doesn't think the Veterans Affairs Department is ready for a flood of new claims for the spring semester.
Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee's oversight and investigations panel, said he is "disappointed" with VA's performance in the fall semester, which left 26,000 people still waiting for benefits when classes ended.
VA officials said most of those 26,000 veterans have now been paid. But VA's Jan. 4 report on pending benefits claims shows that more than 48,000 Post-9/11 GI Bill claims are still being processed. Some of those could be for the spring semester.
"With a second semester only weeks away, I believe the situation remains unacceptable," Mitchell said in a letter to VA, in which he noted he continues to get complaints about long waits.
"The confusion and uncertainty about when checks will arrive, coupled with the need to meet immediate expenses, is adding stress to veterans at a time when many are already struggling with [post-traumatic stress disorder]," Mitchell said.
Mitchell, a former high school teacher, said one of the most worrisome things he has heard is that some veterans are talking about not attending college because of benefit problems.
VA officials pledged in December that they would have all claims received by Jan. 15 paid by Feb. 1 so they could start with a clean slate for the new semester.
Mitchell was not convinced. "I would be remiss if I did not note that previous assurances from the VA have gone unfulfilled," he said.
Not getting paid isn't the only problem, Mitchell said, noting he also has heard complaints from other veterans who are not sure they have been paid the correct amount. "The checks that veterans report receiving contain no or inadequate basic accounting information to help recipients to respond to keep track of their own finances," he said.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee is considering proposals from academic and veterans groups to simplify GI Bill calculations, making it easier for claims to be processed and for veterans to know what they are getting. Such changes, if any, would not take effect until next fall at the soonest, according to congressional aides who have studied the proposals.