Veterans Affairs officials on Friday announced they had resolved issues with delayed payments to hundreds of thousands of students, a move that potentially limits the financial fallout for those with rent and mortgage payments coming due.
Officials still don’t know what caused errors earlier in the week that jeopardized housing payments via the GI Bill. But a fix came faster than originally expected.
Both the VA inspector general and congressional staff are investigating the problem.
“Congress has invested tens of millions of dollars in updating [department IT] systems, which leaves no excuse for delays in payments to occur,” House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., and Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wisc., said in a joint statement.
VA officials said that they were alerted to payment errors related to 282.000 accounts on March 30. Those problems would lead to several days of delay before the money would be sent to students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend school.
Along with funds for regular tuition costs, qualified recipients receive monthly housing stipends to cover expenses such as rent and utilities. Depending on where individuals live, those stipends can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $4,000.
For the VA, repairing the issue was expected to include reconstructing a file to deliver to the Treasury and threatened to leave some individuals short thousands of dollars in benefits as rent payments came due on April 1.
On Friday afternoon, leaders from VA’s Education Service Office sent an alert to GI Bill students saying that fixes were made quicker than expected and individuals receiving electronic payments should see the funds in their bank accounts Friday evening.
The VA was expected to mail out paper checks to about 4,000 beneficiaries on Friday or Saturday.
“VA apologies for any inconvenience the delay in payment posting caused,” the statement said. “We remain committed to analyzing the root causes of this event so we can prevent future occurrences.”
Lawmakers said they are focused on that element of the issue as well. Bost and Van Orden, who leads the committee’s economic opportunity panel, said they were dismayed by VA’s delay in alerting students of the problem.
“The recipients of these education benefits are adults who have served our country, and at the very least, deserve adequate time to make arrangements to deal with the slew of problems that can arise from not having the money to pay your bills on time,” they said.
Democratic members of the committee were more forgiving of the problem. Committee ranking member Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Mike Levin, D-Calif., in a joint statement called the payment processing error “disappointing and incredibly concerning” but praised the department’s response.
“We are confident VA has taken steps to quickly address the issue for those veterans who will remain without their disbursements,” they said.
In a statement, VA leaders said “we will continue to push until every veteran receives their monthly payment, and we will work to make sure that this error does not happen again in the future.”
Individuals with questions or continued problems with the housing payments can contact VA through their GI Bill hotline at 888-442-4551.
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.