Herseth Sandlin Commends VA’s Progress with Setting and Meeting Key Milestones Necessary for Administering New Educational Benefits
Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, February 26, 2009, Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) held the first Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing of the 111th Congress on the progress of implementing the
Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (Post-9/11 G.I.
Bill). The hearing provided an opportunity for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to present clear details about the VA’s schedule for designing, developing, and implementing the educational benefits promised to veterans as required by Public Law 110-252.
Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin stated, “The oversight hearings we began last Congress are critical to ensuring the timely implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. This oversight requires our Subcommittee to have close relationship with the VA, and I look forward to our continued cooperation and communication as the VA develops the new Chapter 33 rules and regulations, and finalizes its short and long-term IT plans.”
Keith Wilson, Director of VA’s Office of Education Service, provided an update on a detailed plan to meet the requirements of benefits delivery in the short-term. VA has begun improving the current information technology (IT) program internally in order to meet the August 2009 deadline and expects to keep this system in place until November 2010.
The VA’s Office of Education Service established a Program Executive Office to manage the development of the overall process for administering the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. The short-term plan relies on increased automation of the current benefits system and a larger workforce. More than 400 of the 500 new positions have been filled, and the remainder of the positions should be filled by early March.
Representatives from the VA were confident that the expanded educational benefits will be available to veterans by August 1, 2009. Wilson reassured the Subcommittee that the implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is on schedule and detailed VA’s progress on developing computer application systems. He explained that the long-term strategy will rely on support from Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic (SPAWAR) to develop an end-to-end solution that utilizes rules-based, industry-standard technologies, for the delivery of benefits.
Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin raised concerns that in the event of a veteran dropping out of school for unforeseen circumstances, the student would be required to pay back the benefit before further accessing the remainder of his or her earned benefits. The Chairwoman noted that institutions have different refund policies for terminating courses mid-semester and requested more detailed information on how the government would work with institutions to refund tuition. She also encouraged veterans service organizations and the VA to publicize this policy before students sign up for school and ensure that students are fully informed before enrolling in coursework.
Chairman Filner remarked, “I am pleased that the VA has been working extremely hard to implement these new education benefits, especially considering that they are faced with such a compressed schedule. By working together, the VA and Committee’s hard work will come to fruition when our veterans start receiving their educational benefits, making it easier for all veterans to achieve the American dream.
Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin deserves recognition for her commitment to ensuring that veterans receive these new benefits on time. It is necessary for oversight over the implementation of this benefit to continue, as our veterans deserve accountability and transparency.”