Over 1.5 million veterans call Texas home, but thousands are having trouble getting the military to live up to its promises. Complaints are mounting over delayed or missing benefit payments under the GI Bill.
Leo Shane, deputy editor of Military Times, attended a House hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday where lawmakers questioned how these delayed payments happened, and how the Department of Veterans Affairs plans on fixing them.
“These are the housing and living stipends that go to students vets when they are attending college,” Shane says. “The idea behind these stipends is folks don’t have to go get a second job or find a way to put food on the table – they’ll be able to get this stipend and be able to survive. So, if this gets delayed by two months, it can be rent money, it can be grocery money. A lot of college students don’t have savings to dip into to start off with.”
Officials for the VA are blaming a 50-year-old IT system, saying it hasn’t been able to deal with the changes that have been made to how the VA delivers benefits.
“Veterans groups I’ve talked to said this bill [to change the delivery of benefits] got passed two summers ago,” Shane says. “Back in the spring, [veterans] were hootin’ and hollerin’, ‘We’re going to have problems if you don’t get this fixed,’ and the VA, all along through the summer, said the IT systems would be ready. Now, three months into the semester they’re saying they weren’t ready and we couldn’t adapt them.”
Shane says the VA employs 370,000 people and serves over nine million veterans across the country, so when things go wrong, it affects many thousands of people.
“It does speak to this larger issue of disaster culture in VA,” Shane says. “How much preparation can they do, how much do they see these problems coming down the pike and how quickly can they adapt to things? I think the commonality between some of those old medical delays and what we’re seeing now is just the idea that VA doesn’t seem to be able to get ahead of a lot of problems.”
The VA did not give lawmakers a deadline for when the IT system will be updated during the hearing Thursday, but said some IT problems might persist through the spring.
“The question is, ‘Are these folks who are getting adjusted housing payments that aren’t as big as they need to be, or are these folks that don’t get any housing payments and are really in financial distress?’” Shane says.
Written by Brooke Vincent.