VA vows timely GI Bill payments

By Tom Philpott: PNT columnist

The new Post-9/11 GI Bill, which on average will double the value of education benefits for eligible veterans, will be launched on schedule next August and begin making payments to students and colleges next fall. That’s just as Congress intended, says a senior Department of Veterans Affairs official.

Keith M. Wilson, director of education service for the Veterans Benefits Administration, told Military Update that concerns expressed by some lawmakers and veterans’ service organizations that the new GI Bill might not start Aug. 1, 2009, as the law requires, are unfounded.

However, Wilson said, payments will have to be processed manually, as occurs now with Montgomery GI Bill and other education benefit claims, because an automated processing system won’t be ready for two more years.

Only last month VA officials had assured Congress they continued to pursue a strategy to have Post-9/11 GI Bill claims handled by a private contractor who would deploy a modern claim processing system based on industry-standard technologies and “minimal human intervention.”

On Oct. 10, the VA announced it will have to “rely upon its own workforce to set up the information technology programs needed to implement the educational benefits of the new Post-9/11 GI Bill.”

The VA press release explained it had not received enough proposals “from qualified private-sector contractors to create an information technology program that implements the new benefit.” That left some lawmakers concerned that the department now was in a race to field its own automated processing system or the Post-9/11 benefit might not begin on schedule.