You may have experienced or heard that some of the GI Bill housing payments have not been paid what they should be. This is a huge problem and one that leaves veterans who rely on these payments in a stressful situation. There are a lot of questions about when they will get the full amount, if they will, and if any one even cares to make this right.
The good news is, things look like they are going to be made right. In a statement released yesterday, by VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, it states that –
“Each and every post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiary will be made 100 percent whole-retroactively if need be-for their housing benefits for this academic year based on Forever GI Bill rates, not post-9/11 GI Bill rates.”
Secretary Wilkie is reassuring that all would be made right for anyone who will be receiving housing benefits under the Forever GI Bill.
Why is this all happening? Why the delay?
Things haven’t worked out exactly how they should be when it comes to this updated housing benefit. The Forever GI Bill is the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act that was signed into law in August of 2017. Different parts of the law go into effect at different times, and the date that the MHA, Monthly Housing Allowance, was supposed to go into effect is what essentially was changed and where this current issue is coming from.
Under the Forever GI Bill, the veterans MHA will be calculated under where they physically go to school, not the main campus of the school they are attending. For some, this is going to be exactly the same and no change was expected, but for others, the change can be a big deal.
The rate is based on the E-5 BAH rate for dependents and the zip code. For example, if a student lives in Los Angeles, California and goes to a school with its main campus in St. Louis, using 2018 BAH rates, they would have been receiving $1,437 a month based on the zip code of the main campus of the school, but $2,928 based on a zip code in Los Angeles. This is a big difference and beneficial to the veteran because they are paying rent or a mortgage based on Los Angeles prices, not St. Louis ones.
While not everyone will have such a big difference in costs, and some may lose money because of zip codes, once this goes into effect 100%, all veterans receiving the monthly housing stipend should at least be receiving what they should based on where they currently take classes, not the zip code of a main campus, that could be far away and that they maybe never have been to.
According to the Forever GI Bill, this all should have gone into effect on August 1st of this year, however, because of technology issues, this has not been the case. This delay has caused the VA to say that they will not be able to ensure that everyone will receive these updated amounts until Spring of 2020. The confusion lies in if veterans will be given what they didn’t receive and should have received in the future.
Based on a VA briefing on November 28th, 2018, “Effective Dec. 1, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) will reset its implementation efforts for sections 107 and 501 of the law to give the department the time, contracting support and resources necessary to develop the capability to process Spring 2020 enrollments in accordance with the law by December 1, 2019.”
During this time, they will be soliciting bids from contractors for extra help with program integration, systems implementation, and software development. During the time between now and then, the VBA will be paying monthly housing allowance rates for the Post-9/11 GI Bill at the current academic year uncapped Department of Defence Basic Housing Allowance Rates.
This means that for some veterans, their DOD BAH rate will be equal to or higher than their current payment. The VBA will also correct retroactively any underpayments resulting from these problems. If a student was overpaid because of the change in the law, or because of the VBA’s challenges in implementing the law, the student will not be held liable for that debt.
This also means that for the 2018-2019 academic year, the VBA will be paying housing allowances based on the location of the school’s main campus, not the physical location of the student. This interim policy will terminate on December 1, 2019 and while frustrating for the veterans it will affect, will hopefully be made right in time.
It is important to know that back in early September, the VBA’s pending education claims inventory was three times higher than it normally is. However, the claims inventory is back to normal levels now.
A quote from Secretary Wilkie stated, “Redesigning the way VBA calculates Post 9/11 GI Bill housing rates during a busy academic season was like flying a plane while building it, and that was unfair and frustrating to Veterans and taxpayers. That’s why we are resetting our implementation of the law for the next year to ensure we get the technology and formula right to put Veterans first. In the meantime, beneficiaries receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill housing allowances will be paid at the DoD BAH rate, which in many cases will be equal to or higher than their current payment.”
The VBA is expecting to be able to maintain timeliness standards of an average of 28 days for a new enrollment and 14 days for a re-enrollment.
We all need to hope that things do get fixed and that all housing stipends will be given out the way they should with their updated Forever GI Bill rates come Spring 2020 as the VBA has promised. We also hope that the VA will keep its promise to make things right for those who were negatively affected by the delays and technical difficulties.
The VA states that if anyone does require assistance with their GI Bill benefit or if a veteran is experiencing a financial hardship due to the delay in patent that they contact their Education Call Center at 888-442-4551. Veterans can also follow the GI Bill Education Facebook page or Twitter account for updates. When it comes to the VA, GI Bill payments, and other Veterans Benefits, it is always a good idea to figure out what is going on, where the issues might be coming from, and what is being done to fix any problems that have come up.
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