Statement of Ranking Member Richard Burr
April 21, 2010
Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for calling this hearing to discuss the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. I also want to thank our witnesses for being here today. Your input will help us understand what worked well and where mistakes were made in standing up this new education program. More importantly, it will help us identify how veterans and their families can be better served as we move forward.
This education program was created for those who have served in the Armed Forces since the devastating attacks on September 11, 2001. When these brave men and women choose to pursue their educational goals, their benefits need to be accurate, timely, and hassle free.
Unfortunately, the first semester of this program did not go smoothly for many of these veterans. As we’ll discuss today, some veterans experienced long delays, frustrations, and financial strains while waiting to receive their education benefits. And many schools had to find ways to accommodate veterans while waiting for VA to pay the bills.
Recognizing these unacceptable delays, VA took a number of steps to get benefits to veterans more quickly. For instance, VA issued over 120,000 emergency advance payments and redirected more than 150 employees from VA’s Education Call Center to processing claims. Although those and other measures did speed up the payments, they also created other problems.
Some veterans initially had a hard time cashing VA’s handwritten emergency checks and many emergency payments were sent to individuals who were not eligible to receive them. Also, there was a significant amount of frustration caused by the fact that calls to VA went unanswered.
Other veterans ran into difficulties in paying VA back for the emergency advance payments. Some received two separate letters from VA, containing different information about the repayment process. And those who tried to call VA to discuss their options may have reached only a busy signal. On top of that, thousands of veterans initially had more money withheld from their April housing checks than VA had agreed to hold back.
In addition, some veterans have faced problems resulting from incorrect payments sent to their schools. As an example, a veteran from my home state of North Carolina had his monthly housing allowance cut off by VA in order to recoup a duplicate tuition payment made to his school – even though the college had already sent the money back to VA. Unfortunately, as we’ll hear today, that was not an isolated incident.
In light of these and other issues surrounding the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, I hope to have a candid discussion today about what went wrong, what steps have already been taken to deal with those problems, and, more importantly, what else can be done to improve the delivery of these benefits to veterans in North Carolina and across the country.
In that regard, I am encouraged by signs that the current semester is proceeding more smoothly and I appreciate the hard work of VA employees in making that happen. But, even with those improvements, I think it is important to fully understand what stumbles occurred in standing up this program. That way VA, Congress, and other stakeholders have the opportunity to learn from these experiences and try to ensure that veterans will not endure similar problems in the future.
On a final note, Mr. Chairman, I want to mention how pleased I am to be working with you on a draft bill to make technical changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. I believe that draft will be a useful starting point in discussing how we may be able to improve this program for our nation’s veterans and their families.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
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