In response to my story on Thursday that the Veterans Affairs Department has a backlog of 191,338 unprocessed educational benefits claims, VA sent along some background information in an attempt to clarify the situation.
Although the clarification was somewhat confusing, the background info says that to date VA has received a total of "193,000 claims for eligibility determinations under the Post-9/11 GI bill and has completed action on 136,000 of those eligibility determinations."
Journalists are not great at math, but, I do believe, those figures mean that VA still has not processed 57,000 post-9/11 GI bill claims, with the fall semester slated to start in less than three weeks. The background info says the majority of the claims currently pending were received in the last 30 days.
I also was told that VA currently has 138,000 education claims pending (83,000 eligibility determinations and 55,000 enrollment certifications) for all VA educational benefits, including the Post-9/11 GI bill, the Montgomery GI bill, the Reserve Education Assistance Program, and Dependents Educational Assistance, with some 76 percent or 104,000 of the 138,000 were received within the last 30 days.
This background information also seems to put the onus on the schools, pointing out VA cannot pay benefits under any educational program until schools report student enrollment information. Many schools were still trying to work out their annual budgets until late July and were unable to set the tuition rates VA uses to process claims.
I think the bottom line here is a lot of vets face the start of the fall semester without their hard-earned benefits in hand.
Schools who enrolled students under the post-9/11 GI bill are supposed to receive payment for tuition and fees direct from VA, and I have the feeling VA will ask the schools to give the students a free ride until a check from Uncle Sugar arrives.
That's hinted at in an excellent Aug. 7 story from WBAL-TV in Baltimore on the payment problems vets faced at the University of Maryland. The WBAL story included a statement from VA about the reality that schools nationwide will soon face as VA works to whittle down its education claim backlog:
"The VA has reached out to the states and schools to strongly encourage them to demonstrate flexibility and forbearance when working with students receiving VA education benefits," the department said in a statement.
I wonder why VA did not provide me with such a statement.
The WBAL story also pointed out vets are on their own when it comes to paying for books and room and board. "The University of Maryland said it will take care of the tuition until the department catches up, but students will have to take care of books and supplies on their own."
I mentor a veteran who attends The George Washington University in Washington, and he told me that this whole payment mess leaves him "worried and scared."
I understand. In 1971, while attending Fordham University in New York City, I had not received one dime from VA for an entire fall semester as Christmas approached.