Maui News

New Law Ensures Veterans Get Full Housing Benefits

January 4, 2019, 9:35 AM HST
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President Donald Trump today signed into law the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs reimburses veterans for missed or underpaid Forever GI Bill housing benefits.

The legislation was introduced by US Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.

Advocates say the bill was drafted to hold the VA accountable for its “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,” advocates said.

According to supporters of the bill, 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.

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The bill moved swiftly through both chambers of Congress. The Senate approved the bill on Dec. 18, 2018 and the House passed it two days later on Dec. 20, 2018.

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“Now that this bill is law, student veterans no longer have to worry about being shortchanged,” Schatz said. “Congress will also have more tools to make sure the VA does right by our veterans. I’m glad we were able to get this done.”

“I’m pleased that President Trump signed this bill into law to protect veterans who rely on this benefit. There’s simply no excuse for failing to fully deliver the housing benefits that student veterans are owed. I will continue to use congressional oversight to make certain VA’s errors do not go uncorrected,” Boozman said. “I encourage any Arkansan who has been affected by this problem to reach out to my office so that we can ensure they get they get their full benefits.”

The legislation is cosponsored by US Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

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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 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.
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