Veterans aren't getting their GI Bill benefits because a small change broke the VA systems
Last year Donald Trump signed a bill to improve GI Bill benefits for American veterans. Because there has been little progress in moving the Veterans Administrations off their antiquated record-keeping systems, in which all benefits promised to American veterans depend on the structural equivalent of coaxing seven squirrels to simultaneously spin bowling balls on their noses, it set off a chain reaction of technical incompetence that has resulted in housing allowances being cut off to the veterans that were supposed to be getting them.
And really now, at some point this ceases to be a scandal and becomes … well, what?
At the end of August, Veterans Benefits Administration had nearly 239,000 pending claims — 100,000 more than at the same point in 2017. As school began, thousands of students faced dire circumstances and some faced eviction, getting kicked out of school or taking on loan or credit card debt.
It is an ongoing catastrophe. The new bill calculates a veteran student’s housing allowance based on the location of the school, not the home address of the veteran attending it; this change in zip code processing was enough to cripple the whole system, creating a backlog of claims that has meant tens of thousands of veterans haven’t received those housing stipends even now, near the close of the current semester. It’s a wreck.
While the VA’s technical problems are hardly new, the Trump administration has treated the agency with active contempt, these past two years. Prior head David Shulkin was fired by Trump after, Shulkin says, Shulkin resisted the Trump team’s efforts to privatize veterans’ medical care. After booting him, Trump initially named his own White House doctor as replacement, despite no apparent management experience that would prepare him for such a daunting task; the current head is Robert Wilkie, who got the job after “Trump’s favorite White House doctor” was shot down.
Complicating matters somewhat, between the passing of the new bill and its implementation the Trump administration shuttered the VA’s Office of Economic Opportunity entirely, part of their long-running effort to close down any agency or department Trump’s team of arch-conservative Republican saboteurs don’t personally understand and approve of. The Chief Information Officer’s post has been a revolving door this year; the current CIO was confirmed for the job less than two months ago.
In the meantime, the soldiers who fought in our most recent wars aren’t getting their promised benefits, are facing “dire circumstances” as they try to wait out the bungling, and are generally being treated, yet again, like dirt. There will be a House committee hearing on the fiasco next Wednesday, but as of yet there seems to be no confidence the situation will be speedily fixed—either right now, or in January when the next semester starts.