Survey sheds light on GI Bill hiccups
December 2, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 2, 2010) -- A year after Veterans Affairs implemented the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the American Council on Education has released a study showing that most veterans are pleased with the new benefit, but there is room for improvement.
The study, released Nov. 10, canvassed four colleges and students representing 13 installations, for a total of 230 survey and focus group participants. The majority of veterans using the new GI Bill benefit said they were glad for the increase in tuition support and monthly housing and book stipend, yet many reported that payments were often several months late.
"Some of these students were planning on supporting themselves with this money," said Jennifer Steele, the researcher at RAND Corporation who led the study. Steele explained that when students who were expecting the GI Bills' housing stipend did not receive their pay, the VA issued emergency funds to help out. Still, some veterans found themselves in the negative.
"It was a challenge," said Keith Wilson, the VA education service director. "It took us longer to process claims than we were hoping for."
Wilson explained that when the program first launched, processing a single claim required approval by several employees using several different computer systems. Last fall, he said, an average claim would take 48 days to pay, now that number is down to 18.
"We've moved to an automated pay system," Wilson said, adding that in the future, the VA would like to be able to process some claims without any human assistance.
The new GI Bill appears to have inspired several veterans to pursue higher education, simply because the benefits were available. Of those who participated in the survey, 24 percent reported that the existence of the bill drove their decision to enroll, and 18 percent said the bill influenced where they went to school.
Other survey findings showed some veterans had difficulty receiving academic credit for military experience, and 14 percent of respondents said their institution's transfer credit policy was a factor in their school choice.
Wilson said difficulties with transfer credits are across the board, it's not just an issue veterans face. The trouble stems from different colleges offering similar, but not-equivalent courses. Each school has its own transfer policy.
He gave the example of a student wanting to transfer a same-level Western civilization class to a new institution, but the time period studied in the class he's already taken doesn't match up to the class he is attempting to receive credit for.
Another concern addressed by the survey was how schools grant credits for military experience. Wilson said each institution is different, but most will give a health credit to servicemembers.
Wilson also said many of the payment problems noted in the survey have now been rectified, and students can look forward to a new automated tracking tool for their VA benefits in the coming months.
A combined Department of Defense and VA portal is expected to be available by the spring. On the site, students will be able to view pending payments, how many months of benefits they have left and what their benefits' expiration date is.
"It makes sense, because today we do all of our banking online," Wilson said.
Wilson also said he is most proud of the housing allowance now available for qualified veterans, because it allows servicemembers to focus on their education instead of worrying how they are going to make ends meet.
He noted that many veterans today have families, and the existence of the added benefits have spurred more military members to pursue full-time higher education when it may not have been an option for them before.
Wilson lauded the implementation of the bill, and said that it may drive more veterans than at any other time in history to take advantage of their benefits and pursue degrees.
"It will take several years to see what the true impact of this program is," Wilson said.
Active Duty Soldiers can use the tuition benefit of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but cannot collect the monthly housing and book stipend, said Master Sgt. Michael Beaupre of the G-1 Enlisted Professional Development Branch. So some Active Duty members opt to use the serviceAca,!a,,cs tuition-assistance program instead and save their GI Bill benefits for later, or even transfer their benefits to their family members.
Beaupre said many of the questions about the GI Bill that he answers daily via e-mail are about how to transfer benefits to family members. He explained that Army career counselors or in-service recruiters handle the transfer of benefits to family members from enlisted Soldiers. And the U.S. Army Human Resources Command Education Incentives Office handles the transfer for lieutenants through lieutenant colonels.
He said many routine questions about Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits can be answered on the website G-1 developed at <a href="http://www.armyg1.army.mil/post911gibill.asp"> www.armyg1.army.mil/post911gibill.asp</a>.