VA vows to make veterans '100 percent whole' over underpaid housing benefits

VA vows to make veterans '100 percent whole' over underpaid housing benefits
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The Veterans Affairs Department says veterans will not lose any housing benefits, pushing back on a report that the agency does not plan to reimburse those who were underpaid after a computer glitch. 

“Each and every Veteran on the post-9/11 GI Bill will be made 100 percent whole -- retroactively if need be -- for their housing benefits for this academic year based on the current uncapped DoD rates,” VA spokesman Curtis Cashour said in a statement to The Hill on Thursday morning.

"[A]nd, beginning in spring 2020, we [will] be in a position to provide Veterans the new rates where applicable to meet the law known as the Forever GI Bill," he added.

His comments follow a story published by NBC News on Wednesday night reporting that the agency told congressional staffers that it will not reimburse veterans who received smaller GI Bill benefit payments than they were owed due to computer issues from implementing the law's changes.

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Committee aides told the outlet that the VA said it could not reimburse those veterans without auditing past education claims, which, they said, would hold up future claims.

The report came weeks after computer problems delayed GI Bill payments to hundreds of thousands of veterans due to a change in calculating housing allowances under the Forever GI Bill, which President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Ayers decision casts harsh light on Trump NASA offers to show Stephen Curry evidence from moon landings Freedom Caucus calls on leadership to include wall funding, end to 'catch and release' in funding bill MORE signed into law last year. According to NBC News, the department's computers were unable to process the change, quickly leading to an immense backlog of veterans' claims.

Because of the backlog, the department announced earlier Wednesday that it would delay the bill’s housing allowance changes until next year, while also pledging that veterans who received incorrect GI Bill benefit payments would eventually be paid the correct amount.

Committee aides said VA officials told Capitol Hill staffers on Wednesday that the department will not retroactively reimburse underpaid veterans due to the housing miscalculations once the system is fixed next year.

"They are essentially going to ignore the law and say that that change only goes forward from Dec. 2019," one aide told the outlet.

However, Cashour told The Hill “the NBC report is misleading and gives the false impression that some Veterans on the GI Bill will not be made whole with respect to their housing payments.”

Cashour further clarified to The Hill that “every single Veteran will be made whole for their housing benefits this year” and that the rates they are “providing are the current academic year uncapped DoD Basic Allowance for Housing [BAH] rates based on the location of a school’s main campus, rather than the physical location of the student.”

“For many students, this DoD BAH rate will be equal to or higher than their current payment,” Cashour continued. “If a student was overpaid due to the change in law or because of VBA’s [Veterans Benefit Administration] challenges in implementing the law, the student will not be held liable for the debt.”

Cashour added to The Hill that starting in the Spring term of 2020, the VA “will have solved its current information technology difficulties” so that it can comply with the Forever GI Bill going forward.