WASHINGTON, D.C. (Army News Service, July 21, 2010) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to improve processing veterans benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a VA official told senators today.

Keith Wilson, director of the VA Education Service Department, testified before the Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs. He said productivity and policies are two areas in which the department is making improvements.

"We will do whatever it takes to make sure individuals are paid their benefits," Wilson said.

Last year he said between the fall and spring semesters, the number of claims processed went from 1,800 to about 6,000.

Applications for the benefits must be processed at four centers nationwide that have a staff of 1,400 people, he said.

Some senators expressed concern over the small number of centers. Wilson said there are liaison representatives throughout the country.

Wilson recommended amendments to the bill be delayed until August 2011 or later when he said upgraded Information Technology systems should be ready. "So that enhancements to the program do not have a negative impact on service delivery," he said.

Delivering information to veterans is another area the department is working on. Wilson said 30 percent of warfighters who are eligible for the GI Bill do not use it. Veterans Affairs is trying to raise awareness of the benefits.

"We're constantly looking at how we can do better of getting out there, not just at campuses, but reaching individuals before they make the decision where they want to go to school," Wilson said.

School officials contribute to veterans receiving benefits in a timely manner, the director said. "We've worked hard and will continue to work hard to make sure that we have an effective relationship with the school officials," he said.

School officials are trained online by VA about how to provide technical information that is needed for veterans to receive benefits.

University of Illinois employee Judith Flink was a witness during the hearing. She said the requirement to refund overpayments to students instead of directly to the VA is not only inefficient, it also puts students at risk of losing future benefit eligibility under the program if they fail to understand or fulfill their responsibility to return those funds to the VA.

She noted that some students receive a refund form the school and spend the money on other expenses before they receive a notice from VA regarding the overpayment. She said VA puts a hold on future benefits until the amount is paid back.

Page last updated Wed July 21st, 2010 at 17:39