Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie told NGAUS that officials are working to correct issues that caused delays to Forever GI Bill housing benefit payments.
In an interview that will be published in an upcoming issue of NATIONAL GUARD magazine, the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) addressed problems that resulted in thousands of veterans receiving incorrect and late payments.
There have been news accounts of veterans unable to pay for housing, childcare and food.
“A system was put in place without any beta testing, hoping that it works,” Wilkie said. “I had to make a command decision to put a stop to that, to get us back on the old way of getting the checks processed so our veterans and dependents wouldn’t be put at a disadvantage.”
The VA has taken heat in recent weeks for its handling of the housing benefits, part of a major expansion of veterans’ education benefits passed by Congress last year. It remains unclear how many veterans were affected by the delays and how much money is still owed.
In recent days, members of Congress have called for the VA Office of the Inspector General to help hold the VA accountable for auditing and processing retroactive payments for underpaid or missed claims.
Wilkie said the problems began with an antiquated system for processing the claims that could not meet the demands of changes created by the Forever GI Bill, which included a new method for calculating housing allowances based on where veterans take classes instead of their school’s main campus.
Those changes were to take place earlier this year, but VA officials have since said full implementation would not take place until December 2019, or not until the Spring 2020 semester.
In the interim, housing payments will be made using the old methodology.
“We have ancient information architecture here. I’ve been in the job a little over a hundred days, took a close look at the problem and decided we weren’t getting any closer to the solution,” he said. “I called a halt and ordered a re-compete for the computer update.
“We will meet the requirements of the law. We will meet the requirements under the Forever GI Bill,” Wilkie added. “We will get checks out in a timely manner and we will solve them.”