House Passes Bill Blocking Schools from Penalizing Student Veterans for VA's Delays

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Students Studying at College
Students Studying at College

The House passed a bill Tuesday aimed at preventing schools from slapping penalties on student veterans affected by the VA's failures to make GI Bill tuition and housing allowance payments on time.

The bill, according to Rep. Phil Roe, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the House Veterans Committee, would make schools "ineligible for GI Bill tuition payments if they placed penalties or burdens on students as a result of the Department of Veterans Affairs failing to pay GI Bill payments on time."

Roe said he looked forward to the Senate passing the bill and President Donald Trump signing it "as soon as possible," but it was unclear whether there was enough time remaining in the current Congress to make those things happen.

The bill was a partial response by the House to the VA's failures to have the software and information technology systems in place to handle changes in the housing allowance rates under the Forever GI Bill for the current semester, resulting in a backlog of thousands of claims.

After missing deadline after deadline for installing the new systems, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced last month that the department was committed to having the new system up and running by December 2019.

In the interim, VA pledged to clear the backlog and reimburse student veterans who may have been shorted in their payments.

In a statement, Wilkie said "redesigning the way VBA [Veterans Benefits Administration] calculates Post 9/11 GI Bill housing rates during a busy academic season was like flying a plane while building it, and that was unfair and frustrating to veterans and taxpayers."

"That's why we are resetting our implementation of the law for the next year to ensure we get the technology and formula right to put veterans first," Wilkie said.

The language of the bill states that schools and training programs approved for GI Bill benefits would be barred "from imposing a late fee, denial of access to facilities, or other penalty against a veteran or eligible dependent due to a late payment of tuition and/or fees from VA."

The bill "will make life easier for student veterans who have been negatively affected by the GI Bill housing payment delays," said Rep. Tim Walz, a Minnesota Democrat and ranking member of the Committee.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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