GI Bill applicants experience delayed payments

When senior Michael Jenkins started his summer vacation, he did not know how to pay for his last year of college. Two days before classes started, the government informed him that it picked up the bill.

Jenkins, a kinesiology major and Navy veteran, said he applied for the post-9/11 GI Bill in May because his old GI Bill ran out. About 16 weeks after he applied, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officer informed him that he qualified for 100 percent of the new bill’s benefits.

“I almost wanted to break out in tears,” he said, adding that the payments came just in time to pay for school. “For me, it was almost like fate.”

Other applicants were not as fortunate and did not get their payments on time. Because the number of applicants for new GI Bill benefits resulted in delayed government payments to veterans, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki announced an emergency payment plan for eligible veterans in a press release Sept. 30. The plan went into effect Oct. 2 and allows veterans to receive checks at regional offices or to make an online request for immediate funding.

“VA is adapting to meet the financial needs of our veteran students who are on campus,” Shinseki said in the press release. “They should be focusing on their studies, not worrying about financial difficulties.”

The payments are an advance of the bill’s educational benefits, and the amount is deducted from future payments, according to the press release. Amounts veterans receive in emergency payments depend on their monthly educational benefits, with the maximum advance payment of $3,000. According to VA, applications from about 25,000 veterans are currently being processed for education benefit payments under the bill.

According to the campus veteran affairs office, 103 student veterans are using military benefits. Stephanie Hules, veteran affairs officer, declined to disclose the number of students receiving new GI Bill benefits. She said she couldn’t say if any students were having problems with delayed payments.

Jenkins said filing an online application and waiting without knowing how much he would receive was time consuming. He said the old bill provided him with $1,100 a month for three years, but the new bill would cover all his tuition costs, along with a housing and book allowance.

“The process took forever,” Jenkins said. “I was kind of on top of it, but there’s a lot of people who weren’t.”

The only holdup Jenkins experienced, a book allowance delay of a few weeks, occurred because of a direct deposit issue.

“I was one of the first ones to get it going, so fortunately by the time the semester began I was good to go,” Jenkins said.

Josephine Schuda, a VA spokeswoman, said undetermined state budgets this summer held up schools sending enrollment certifications, which affected the payment process. She said the department hired about 800 people to help input data to process payments. She said the VA should have a new system to speed up the process by next year.

Editor-in-chief David Hall contributed to this report.