Saturday, September 26, 2009

Over half of vets still waiting for G.I. Bill money

WASHINGTON — Nearly a month into the fall college semester, the Department of Veterans Affairs has paid benefits for fewer than half the former Iraq and Afghanistan veterans requesting under the new post-9/11 G.I. Bill, according to a VA estimate.

Keith Wilson, director of the VA Education Service office, said about half of the 50,000 veterans owed money for tuition and expenses have been paid. Others are still waiting .

Another estimated 60,000 veterans are waiting for money under an older version of the G.I. Bill, Wilson says.

"We realize we're not meeting everybody's expectations," he says.

"If you served your country, they (the U.S. government) promised to pay," says Jeff Kohler, 23, a Navy veteran of the Iraq war who now attends Ohio State University. However, he says, the $4,300 in initial tuition fees, housing and expenses promised under the new G.I. Bill have not arrived.

"They sort of dangle your education in front of you and then right when you're going to get it, they say, 'Oops, sorry,' " says Kohler.

Kohler says he's using money from federal grants to pay his tuition, and his father is covering other expenses from his own disability income.

Benefits were delayed because the VA did not assign enough people to process claims, Wilson said. There has since been new hiring, approved overtime and bringing back retired claims processors, he says.

"VA believes any delays … are unacceptable," says VA press secretary Katie Roberts.

There are no confirmed reports yet of anyone denied access to colleges because of tardy payments, although many veterans are complaining about using credit cards, savings or other sources of funding to make ends meet until the VA benefits come through, according to university officials, veterans advocates and students.

Wilson says the average delay in processing claims is 35 days. But at some colleges, such as Western Michigan University, officials say they have been told by the VA that the money may not arrive until November.

In the meantime, many schools are working to provide emergency funding until the VA benefits arrive.

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