Many Student Veterans Are Still Waiting for GI Bill Benefits, Colleges Tell Congress

December 03, 2009

About 26,000 veterans who applied for benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill are still waiting for their claims to be processed, part of a backlog that peaked at more than 200,000 outstanding claims this fall. The delays show no sign of abating as students begin to enroll, and tuition comes due, for the spring semester.

Legislators, veterans' advocacy groups, and higher-education experts discussed the backlog, and possible ways to help fill the claims, at a meeting Thursday that was held by the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Veterans Affairs. They urged the Veterans Affairs Department to consider a second round of emergency payments to help veterans still waiting for their housing benefits. The department issued advance payments to veterans of up to $3,000 per person in October.

Some veterans who enrolled in college and are waiting for their benefits to be processed have been threatened with eviction, said representatives of groups that included Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and Student Veterans of America. Others are facing new unpaid tuition bills for spring semester while they still wait for their benefits for the fall.

At Indiana University at Bloomington, 59 percent of student veterans who applied for GI Bill aid have received their tuition benefits for the fall semester, said Margaret Y. Baechtold, director of veterans-support services there. At Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, 10 percent of enrolled veterans have said they will not be returning for the spring because of financial strain, Ms. Baechtold said.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Democrat of South Dakota and the chairwoman of the Veterans Affairs' Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, said that the delays in payment were "troubling" and might need to be resolved with new legislation.

"We want to find a technical amendment that doesn't make the problem worse," Ms. Herseth Sandlin said.