Veterans Affairs officials have begun work to shift the bulk of its GI Bill benefits operations to a new online platform, with the first changes visible to students by this fall.

Eventually, student veterans and college officials will be able to use the new digital offerings to chat in real time with VA claims staffers and answer questions about benefits. It will also ensure Veterans Benefits Administration officials have “immediate access” to beneficiary records and troubleshoot issues with payments.

Officials are touting the move as “improving education benefits and customer service delivery” for the roughly 1 million students who use GI Bill benefits each year.

The department also hopes the changes will speed up delivery of new education claims. Currently, those take a month on average to complete, and are done through a mixture of traditional mail, phone calls or face-to-face meetings with processors.

The project — dubbed the Digital GI Bill modernization overhaul — will be paid for in large part with $243 million set aside by Congress in its March 2020 pandemic relief bill.

It isn’t expected to be fully completed until October 2022. But department officials said some new online offerings are expected to be rolled out for the start of the fall 2021 semester, to include more access to “real-time benefit information” for students.

In a statement, acting VA Under Secretary for Benefits Thomas Murphy said the first contracts for the work were issued earlier this month.

“Throughout implementation, VA will seek feedback from students, schools and partners to ensure we are meeting their needs effectively as they pursue their academic and vocational goals,” he said.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill — the benefit used by the vast majority of student veterans today — awards 36 months of in-state college tuition, a monthly living stipend and other payouts to individuals who have served at least three years on active-duty.

Payouts for an individual student can exceed $100,000. However, the payouts vary based on state residency, online class choices, and a host of other variables.

Partial benefits can also be awarded to service members who serve at least 90 days on active duty, and individuals that serve longer than three years can transfer their benefits to their spouses or children under certain circumstances.

The complex rules have led to confusion among some applicants and past problems processing claims in a timely manner, prompting members of Congress to push VA into system improvements.

More information on the GI Bill benefit is available at the VA web site.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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