- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

The federal government will issue emergency checks this week to veterans enrolled in college under the new GI Bill to alleviate a financial burden caused by its own backlog that has left some students cash-strapped.

“Students should be focusing on their studies, not worrying about financial difficulties,” Eric Shinseki, Veterans Affairs secretary, said Friday night in announcing the stopgap measure.

Checks for up to $3,000 have been authorized for students who have not received some of their benefits, including book and monthly living costs - however, the money will not go toward tuition.

The Washington Times reported on Friday that tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who applied for college benefits under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill that went into effect last month are still waiting for checks.

As many as 200,000 claims have been processed, but only about 27,000 checks have been issued.

“This is an extraordinary action we’re taking,” Mr. Shinseki said. “But it’s necessary because we recognize the hardships some of our veterans face.”

Students can apply in person at one of the VA’s 57 regional offices for the money, as long as they can present a course schedule along with a photo identification card.

To accommodate veterans who do not live near a regional center or lack transportation, the agency will send officials to campuses where there is a large veteran attendance, and veteran service organizations also are being recruited to help with transportation needs.

The agency recently hired additional claims officers to meet the overwhelming demand.

A March 12 report to the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies by the VA’s inspector general warned that the agency didn’t have enough manpower to launch the new GI Bill.

“Successful implementation remains a difficult and risky challenge” because of staffing and software needs, the report said. “Inadequate staffing can potentially delay claims processing.”

• Audrey Hudson can be reached at ahudson@washingtontimes.com.

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