Repay Veterans Benefits – With Interest, Duckworth Says

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on November 15, 2016. Duckworth has announced she's pregnant with her second child (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Secretary Robert Wilkie and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has come under fire in recent weeks for the delinquent payments of benefits due to as many as 82,000 student veterans.  The backlog of “Forever GI Bill” benefits, which escalated in August, has been attributed to technology issues and insufficient training.

On Thursday, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) urged the VA to fully repay every Veteran – with interest – the benefits they are owed.  “VA’s inability to implement these key provisions has caused significant hardship for thousands of Veteran students. As a result, many Veterans were unable to pay rent, tuition, buy books or put food on the table when the 2018 fall semester began,” Duckworth wrote. “VA was still unprepared even though they were given more than $4 billion a year for information technology improvements and had over a year to prepare for the changes required under the law. It is critical that the VA make Veterans whole for any missed or underpaid benefits to which they are legally entitled, regardless of the burden it may place on the VA.”

There is additional concern that because many of these Veteran students have been unable to make their housing payments, their credit ratings could be impacted and potentially lead to long term financial harm as a result of this crisis.

“Those Veterans who fell behind on their housing payments or were evicted will receive adverse marks on credit reports that may result in a lifetime of hardship,” Duckworth wrote individually to the Chief Executive Officers of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. “After the storm has passed, Veterans may continue to struggle to open future bank accounts, start businesses and secure loans as a result of VA’s failures. As the leader of a major credit reporting bureau, you possess the power and resources to make sure our Veterans’ financial futures are not harmed. While it is too late to prevent certain Veterans from experiencing eviction or dipping into savings as a result of VBA payment errors, you can still prevent lasting damage by working with VA and other relevant entities.”

In late November, VA Undersecretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence told lawmakers, “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, and, beginning in spring 2020, we will be in a position to provide veterans with the new rates where applicable to meet the law known as the Forever GI Bill.”

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