V.A. Will Definitely Maybe Reimburse Vets For Missed Benefits. LOOK, A ILLEGAL ALIEN!
As everyone knows, Donald Trump says he loves no one more than Our Great Military, unless it is Our Great Veterans. He is VERY GOOD at saying he loves Our Great Veterans, and insisting he's made everything much better for them. To demonstrate how much he loves the troops and the vets, Trump has managed not to visit any soldiers deployed in war zones, couldn't be bothered to go to Arlington on Veterans Day, and also skipped a visit to an American WW I cemetery in France because it was raining.
Oh, yeah, and his Veterans Affairs department has fucked over a whole bunch of veterans receiving educational benefits under the GI Bill because the VA's antiquated computer systems were deeply confused by a change in benefits. in 2017, Trump signed the "Forever GI Bill," which expanded stipends for tuition and housing, which is a good thing! But the VA's IT foul-ups in calculating the new housing stipends left hundreds of thousands of vets waiting on payments for housing while attending college -- many for months. Some have lost their apartments, and others are at risk of being kicked out of school. Many have had to take on loans or credit card debt. (Thank goodness the Trump administration is a friend to the payday lending industry, huh?)
The VA has promised it would fix the computer problems and reimburse vets right quick, although so far the problem is still not fixed. On Wednesday, there were two new developments. First, the VA announced it would just give up trying to implement the new housing stipend rules this year, pushing them off until December 2019. Instead, housing assistance would be paid using the Defense Department's Basic Housing Allowance rates, even if that meant some students might be overpaid. Any veterans who had benefits owed them would be reimbursed, the VA said -- at the DoD housing rates, at least, which might or might not be the amount the vets would get under the Forever GI Bill. Depends on your Zip Code. Yes, really.
Later -- also on Wednesday! -- NBC News reported the VA had notified congressional staffers that the paperwork involved in making accurate retroactive payments to vets would create an unbelievable headache and create even greater delays, so reimbursements for gaps between the new law and the DoD rates simply wouldn't happen, tough cheese.
VA officials told congressional staffers in a telephone call on Wednesday morning that once the system is made right next year, they will not make retroactive payments to those who were underpaid because of the housing miscalculations.
"They are essentially going to ignore the law and say that that change only goes forward from December 2019," one aide told NBC News.
The reason the VA decided that it would not make the retroactive payments is because it would have to audit all its previous education claims prior to December 2019, meaning the VA would potentially have to inspect 2 million claims, the aide said.
VA officials said this could cause further delays in processing future claims, according to the aides, an issue that caused some veterans to suffer earlier this year.
Just to be clear here, veterans whose payments were delayed by months will be getting a reimbursement, but it will be at the temporary DoD housing rate, not the new formula the VA was unable to figure out. The VA very strongly objected to the NBC story, complaining it gave the impression that vets whose allowances went missing wouldn't be reimbursed at all. They will, but Crom only knows whether the payments for 2018-2019 will exactly conform with the law.
At a hearing Thursday morning, VA undersecretary for benefits Paul Lawrence testified that vets would absolutely positively be "made whole" -- at those DoD rates, at least. He then went on to acknowledge that yes indeed, it would actually be more trouble than it's worth to figure out exactly which vets had been shortchanged between the two standards and by how much, because come on, the VA is very, very busy, as USA Today reports:
"If you ask me, what should we spend an extra hour on – processing things that yield veterans nothing, putting at risk the spring 2020 semester, or saying, this doesn't yield much and we're going to move forward?" he said at a House VA Committee hearing.
Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., questioned Lawrence repeatedly on the issue after Lawrence at first kept repeating agency talking points that veterans will be "made whole" without acknowledging that it won't be at the new rates under the law.
"Just for clarity, we stood up a system that didn't work, and paid people what we had paid them in the past," Roe said. "And we don't know what we should have paid them. Am I correct? That's pretty much what we did, because our IT system didn't work, that's what happened?"
"That's correct," Lawrence said.
Later, thanks apparently to the bad press, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced the VA would go to the extra trouble and make sure all reimbursements conform to the new law, sure, fine, if you're going to be babies about it.
"Once the VA is in a position to process education claims in accordance with the new law – each and every beneficiary will receive retroactively the exact benefits to which they are entitled under that law," Wilkie said.
We really like that qualifier -- they'll recheck and recalculate once their software, which hasn't worked so far, actually gets up to snuff, which presumably means sometime after they get the right floppy disks delivered. Still, it sort of looks like all may be made right, eventually, at some point, and the "Forever GI Bill" will be remembered for its accurate name, since that's how long it takes to get your benefits.
[NBC News / NBC News / USA Today / Veterans Administration]
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.