WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate yesterday unanimously approved the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act, bipartisan legislation cosponsored by Senator Maggie Hassan, to ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reimburses veterans for missed or underpaid Forever GI Bill housing benefits. The bill now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote. The bill was introduced by U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that our veterans – who have sacrificed so much in defense of our freedoms – should have to suffer because of the VA’s lack of oversight and technological malfunctions,” Senator Hassan said. “This bipartisan legislation would hold the VA accountable for their mistakes and ensure that every student veteran receives the full benefits that they have earned without delay.”
This bipartisan legislation would address 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 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 code where the student takes the majority of classes, rather than on the zip code in which the school’s main campus is located. Instead, some GI Bill recipients have been receiving housing stipends at the 2017 rate and based on the school’s zip code. In all cases, the 2018 rate is higher than the 2017 rate.
The legislation is also cosponsored by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
The Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act would require 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 this egregious error;
· Provide a report to Congress by July 2020 that identifies how many beneficiaries were impacted and to what extent, aggregated by state; and
· Certify the department is fully compliant with the law.