An alert blog reader sends along this story from Stars and Stripes, the latest report on dysfunction at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Today’s topic: months-long delays in VA education benefit payments.
For veterans of post-9/11 conflicts returning home to pursue their education under the GI Bill, it’s the latest rude awakening from the dysfunctional VA. Several months into the academic year, the VA has logged yet another backlog, this time in providing payments to student veterans. Anxious veterans report being unable to pay their rent, with one saying that “VA delays might force him out of school.”
How bad is it? In the Stars and Stripes report, the VA admits that almost 58,000 veterans are waiting for their payments to be processed. And of course, it wouldn’t be the VA if it didn’t include inefficient and duplicative paperwork requests:
The education benefits are just the latest backlog headache for the department, which has received heavy criticism in recent years for the growing number of disability claims that take more than 125 days to complete.
VA officials blamed the education payout delays in large part on the growing volume of veterans applying for student benefits. Almost 4 million claims have been filed this year, up 13 percent from last year’s record numbers.
For returning students, processing averages 17 days. For new students, it takes more than a month.
The education claims backlog also includes multiple documents and requests for the same veteran, aggravating the problem. Department officials in a statement apologized for the problems and said processors are “working to remedy any issues as quickly as possible.”
Over the last few months, we’ve compiled quite a bill of particulars detailing the VA’s administrative dysfunction. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know about the backlog of U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) claims for compensation and retirement benefits, which is now more than 890,000.
And you know about the recent news that veterans on work-study contracts with the VA have found their paychecks delayed, jeopardizing their ability to continue with their studies.
And you’ve read about the VA whistleblowers who sought to alert their superiors about overpaid benefits—warnings that were summarily ignored by VA higher-ups. And let’s not even talk about the VA’s exorbitant and wasteful spending on training conferences at luxury resort hotels for well-compensated bureaucrats.
For veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, who face an unemployment rate two points higher than that of the general population, education benefits can be a critical lifeline to help them prepare for the next step into the civilian workforce. The VA’s incompetence and inefficiency in providing them the benefits they earned is the latest evidence that the department is failing in its mission of service to our nation’s veterans.
If there was ever a federal department in need of top-to-bottom transformation, it’s the VA. Will the next presidential administration make VA reform a top priority? We’ll be watching.
Kate Pomeroy is the Communications Director for the Concerned Veterans for America team.