The VA failed to make the August 1st deadline to publish the new tuition and fees reimbursement chart – and has dropped the ball yet again. Hundreds of thousands of veterans, preparing to start school in the fall, will have no idea how much of their tuition the new GI Bill benefits will cover.
This is all too familiar. Last school year, the VA’s delayed benefits payments left many student veterans uncertain about their finances, many paying out of pocket for their tuition and housing.
The current tuition caps fluctuate wildly from year to year, so a veteran cannot assume they are getting the same benefit as the last year. In 2009, the rates changed over 500% from the previous year and in one state they dropped over $10,000. Many schools, which previously deferred tuition bills for student veterans, will likely force veterans to pay out of pocket, because even the schools don't know what the GI Bill will cover.
The August 1st deadline was mandated by Congress to help student veterans and schools prepare for the upcoming school year. And this is not the first time the VA has ignored a Congressionally-mandated GI Bill deadline. In January, the VA was supposed to increase the monthly living allowance checks to match the Department of Defense's new 2010 housing rates. Instead, the VA unilaterally decided to delay implementing those new rates and did not inform Congress or veterans of their plans. This far-reaching decision, worth hundreds of dollars per month to some veterans and their families, was only mentioned in a “tweet” from one of the VA's many Twitter accounts. There was no formal notification anywhere on the VA's GI Bill website or even the VA Facebook page.
Over 200 days have passed since then and 153,000 student veterans are still waiting for their back payments from the VA. The VA finally relented after repeated pressure by IAVA and the Army Times and announced that they will be delivering those make-up checks sometime in August or the early fall. The actual date is still unspecified. Student veterans need timely information from the VA to make sound decisions about their college careers. Failing to announce these decisions can have far-reaching and devastating consequences.
There is still time for the VA to fix the situation. IAVA calls on the VA to:
- publish an incomplete tuition and fees chart along with a timeline of when they expect to complete the chart
- formally announce a firm deadline when they will be issuing back payments for the living allowances
- create a simple widget on the VA’s GI Bill homepage that announces the most current processing time (“Now processing claims from month and day”).
These are short-term solutions. We need the VA to change from a passive bureaucracy to one that proactively shares information with veterans, even when it isn't good news. And we need to pass the New GI Bill 2.0 (S.3447/H.R. 5933).
This upgrade to the New GI Bill is quickly progressing through Congress and offers a simple and generous solution to the problem of unpredictable and confusing tuition and fee rates. This comprehensive legislation will simplify these complicated state caps and replace them with a simple promise: if you attend a public school, your tuition and fees will be fully covered and, if you attend a private school, you will get at least $20,000/year, plus any yellow ribbon benefits.