As January gets underway, college students across the country are waiting eagerly for that spring financial aid disbursement. While a variety of students will encounter processing delays and unexpected errors this spring, one group may be particularly likely to see problems: student veterans.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which went into effect August 1, offers expanded education benefits to veterans who have served their country since 2001. GI Bill benefits include money for tuition and fees, a stipend that covers living expenses, and the option of transferring education benefits to their family members. However, many veterans who applied for this aid faced a months-long backlog in processing as the Veterans Affairs administration struggled to develop and streamline procedures for handling the new claims.
The delay caused a variety of problems for over 68,000 veterans who applied for the new GI Bill benefits in the fall. Over 26,000 veterans were still waiting for checks at the end of the fall semester, and thousands are still waiting to receive their first check. The VA issued emergency advances of $3,000 in October to veterans still waiting for their first disbursements, but for many that money ran out long before benefits checks arrived.
Some students have had to put tuition or food and rent on credit cards, while others faced problems stemming from still owing their universities for fall tuition. While schools pledged not to drop veterans with unpaid bills, some have prevented veterans from receiving their transcripts and diplomas or registering for spring semester while waiting for benefits checks to arrive, according to the Associated Press.
As of late December, the VA reported a remaining backlog of only 5,000 claims, but an Army Times story lists the number of pending claims as of January 4 at 48,000, many of which are for spring semester. Given the popularity of the bill and the continued delays, members of Congress have begun exploring ways to simplify the procedures for processing GI Bill benefits claims. In the meantime, the VA has pledged to have all claims received by January 15 processed by February 1, but given the number of pending claims and the speed at which processing moved in the fall, veterans may once again find themselves waiting months to receive their financial aid.