Veterans across the United States are still awaiting the arrival of their benefit payments after President Donald Trump signed the Forever GI Bill last year, as technological issues continue to plague the Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to NBC News, though the new legislation expanded benefits for America’s veterans, the department’s information technology capabilities were not updated to account for the changes, leaving countless veterans waiting for housing and education payments to come through.
> The cause of the difficulty lies within VA’s Office of Information Technology, which was tasked with implementing a change to how the housing allowance was calculated, the agency said. The Forever GI Bill required that housing would be based on the ZIP code of where a veteran went to school, not where he or she lived.
> Issues that arose when VA attempted to stress-test their antiquated system, and a contract dispute over the new changes, meant VA waited until July 16 to tell schools to begin enrolling students, according to multiple veteran advocacy groups. Many colleges and universities waited, however, because VA told them that they would need to reenter their student veterans' certifying information either way.
> “That’s when the floodgates opened,” said Patrick Murray, the deputy director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “With all the delays trying to get the upgrades in the ZIP code processing, they suddenly got all their enrollments, which usually come during the spring across the summer. Instead they all came a few weeks before the fall semester, and they couldn’t keep up.”
NBC said more than 82,000 veterans were still waiting for housing payments to arrive as of November 8, but it remains unclear just how many people are still affected by the issue.
> At the end of August, Veterans Benefits Administration had nearly 239,000 pending claims — 100,000 more than at the same point in 2017. As school began, thousands of students faced dire circumstances and some faced eviction, getting kicked out of school or taking on loan or credit card debt.
With no clear solution in sight, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will conduct a hearing Wednesday to investigate.
> "This is — to be kind — a train wreck,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “It’s really frustrating the amount of money that Congress has appropriated for veterans, and this is the way VA has rolled it out. This discussion started over a year ago.”
> The contractor hired by VA to update its system for the Forever GI Bill, Booz Allen Hamilton, a multi-billion dollar information technology company, will be called to testify, a committee aide said. They will be joined by Under Secretary for Benefits Dr. Paul Lawrence and Director of the Education Service Robert Worley. A witness from the VA’s Office of Information and Technology will also be called.
Shelley Roundtree, discharged from the U.S. Army in 2013, told NBC News he is in dire straights due to the VA’s issues:
> Roundtree, 29, began studying marketing at Berkeley College in Midtown Manhattan. He dreams of working in the fashion industry, and he's close to graduating — but now there's a serious obstacle.
> "I’m about to lose everything that I own and become homeless," Roundtree said. "I don’t want to be that veteran on the street begging for change because I haven’t received what I was promised."
> Without the GI Bill's housing stipend, Roundtree was kicked out of his apartment and is now living on his sister's couch, miles from school, where he feels like a burden on his family. The new living situation required him to move all his belongings into a storage container, which he can no longer afford. Now all of his possessions are in danger of being auctioned off by the storage facility.
> Roundtree said that because of his extremely strained finances, he is forced to choose between spending money on public transportation to get to his marketing classes or buying food — not both. At the end of the day, the veteran said he often makes himself go to sleep hungry.