WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump last Thursday signed into law the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act, bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., to ensure that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reimburses veterans for missed or underpaid Forever GI Bill housing benefits.
The legislation addresses the VA’s failure to fully comply with reimbursement rates set by the Forever GI Bill. The improper payments resulted from IT systems that had not been properly updated and the lack of internal processes to get the VA the necessary information about payment rates.
The VA should have used the Department of Defense’s 2018 Basic Allowance for Housing Rates, which should have been calculated based on the zip codes where the students take the majority of their classes, rather than on the zip codes in which the schools' main campuses are located. Instead, some GI Bill recipients have been receiving housing stipends at the 2017 rate and based on the schools' zip codes. In all cases, the 2018 rate is higher than the 2017 rate.
The Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act requires the VA to:
· End improper payments as soon as possible
· Establish a team of specialists who will be responsible to report to Congress a detailed plan to correct the error
· Provide a report to Congress by July 2020 that identifies how many beneficiaries were impacted and to what extent, aggregated by state
· Certify the VA is fully compliant with the law
The bill was introduced by Sens. John Boozman, R-Ariz., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who are, respectively, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations' subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.
The legislation is also co-sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Joe Manchin, D-W.V.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
“The VA’s unacceptable blunder should not negatively impact the finances of veterans seeking higher education, and I am grateful for the bipartisan effort to swiftly pass this measure,” Hassan said. “We will not let up in our efforts to hold the VA accountable and ensure that every veteran receives the full benefits that they have earned and deserve.”