Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Lack of leadership to blame for the VA's botched 'Forever GI Bill' rollout, report says
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs failed to modify its electronic systems and lacked an accountable official to oversee implementation of the "Forever GI Bill," resulting in a bungled rollout last year that affected thousands of college students, a new report from the agency's Inspector General says.
The Forever GI Bill, officially called the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, was approved unanimously in both chambers of Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in the summer of 2017.
The law changed how education benefits are to be applied for veterans, revising the formula that determines students' stipend amounts and removing a 15-year expiration date included in the previous version of the law.
However, beginning in August, the VA's system could not handle the intricacies of those changes across more than 400,000 claims, the report said. The result was that some students were underpaid and, in some cases, not paid at all.
In November, the VA decided to delay full implementation until Dec. 1, 2019.
According to the Inspector General's report, the VA's failure to appoint an accountable official to lead implementation of the program resulted in "unclear communication of implementation progress and inadequately defined expectations, roles and responsibilities of the various VA business lines and contractors involved."
Additionally, investigators found that the VA's Office of Information and Technology and the Veterans Benefits Administration Education Service did not agree on how to solve problems once they arose.
Investigators found a 10-month gap from the time the Forever GI Bill became law and when the VA received the computer software to implement it. During those months, the VA worked with contractor Booz Allen Hamilton to develop the program.
But without a single accountable manager in charge, people involved were unclear about their roles, the report said.
In November, the VA Secretary Robert Wilkie gave Paul Lawrence, the VA benefits undersecretary, the task of implementing the Forever GI Bill. Members of Congress, unhappy with how Wilkie was handling the issues, called on the Inspector General to dig into what was happening at the agency.
In January, the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act was signed by Trump, codifying into law that the agency would repay students who were affected by the troubles.
In February, Wilkie appeared before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and talked about a new timeline for the Forever GI BIll.
"My first full day in office was Aug. 1 of last year, and it was clear to me we were reinforcing a broken system," Wilkie said. "I expect everything to be on schedule and back to the norms set by the GI Bill either at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year."
Derek Abbey, the director of the Joan and Art Barron Veterans Center at San Diego State, said the majority of the university's roughly 1500 GI Bill recipients were not affected by the VA's trouble with the new version of the law. For those who were, he said, the Veterans Center tried to minimize the impact.
The university didn't charge late fees, Abbey said, adding that his office ensures paperwork is submitted to the VA in a "timely fashion."
Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and whose district includes Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, said in a statement he was closely monitoring the VA's efforts to fix its problems.
"I am deeply concerned about any undue financial burden placed on our veterans by these missed and underpaid housing stipends," Levin said.
The IG's office said it would continue to monitor VA's progress in implementing the law.
©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
WATCH NEXT: The GI Bill, Explained
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.
Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.
U.S. Special Operations Command may be on the verge of making the dream of flying infantry soldiers a reality, but the French may very well beat them to it.
On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron shared an unusual video showing a man on a flying platform — widely characterized as a "hoverboard" — maneuvering through the skies above the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris armed with what appears to be a dummy firearm.
The video was accompanied with a simple message of "Fier de notre armée, moderne et innovante," which translates to "proud of our army, modern and innovative," suggesting that the French Armed Forces may be eyeing the unusual vehicle for potential military applications.
A lawmaker wants to know if the Pentagon ever exposed the American public to ticks infected with bioweapons
If you've ever wondered if the Pentagon has ever exposed the American public to ticks infected with biological weapons, you're not alone.
Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) authored an amendment to the House version of the Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act would require the Defense Department Inspector General's Office to find out if the U.S. military experimented with using ticks and other insects as biological weapons between 1950 and 1975.
If such experiments took place, the amendment would require the inspector general's office to tell lawmakers if any of the ticks or other bugs "were released outside of any laboratory by accident or experiment design."
The Taliban drove his family out of Afghanistan when he was a child. Now he wants to go back as a Marine
There's no one path to military service. For some, it's a lifelong goal, for others, it's a choice made in an instant.
For 27-year-old Marine Pvt. Atiqullah Assadi, who graduated from Marine Corps bootcamp on July 12, the decision to enlist was the culmination of a journey that began when he and his family were forced to flee their home in Afghanistan.
The Air Force has administratively separated the Nellis Air Force Base sergeant who was investigated for making racist comments about her subordinates in a video that went viral last year, Task & Purpose has learned.