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In the Media

Veterans Affairs Committee In Search Of Geeks? VA Takes Criticism Over New GI Bill

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By Nikki Weingartner
Oct 8, 2008 in World
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A delay in the new GI Bill, also called the Post 9/11 GI Bill, has many law makers upset, with some going as far as saying that a "geek" could do the job of getting the new system in place. With a deadline of August, 2009, will the VA pull through?
Whats more important than opening up collegiate educational opportunity to everyone who wants to work at getting their degree? For some, it comes as post-secondary education. For others, they make the choice to taste the proverbial "real world" first and then take on education. And yet for others, like the men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces, the opportunity to get a college education is simply a benefit of the job where those who are motivated and value that educational step have a chance.
In a news report last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs was taking some pretty harsh criticism for what is being called a lack of hard work in relation to the new GI Bill. With a deadline that is a short eleven months away to have the completely overhauled system in place, it appears that the VA may not be prepared to provide for its service members.
Under the new GI Bill, all individuals who served on active duty for at least 3 years since September 11, 2001 would be eligible for education benefits including 4-years of tuition paid at any state university of their choice as well as separate stipends for housing and books.
Under the old system, known as the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB), active duty members and veterans received monthly benefit checks designed to cover the costs of education, including tuition and supplies. Essentially, the checks were disbursed based upon a flat rate, the service member's status and whether or not they were attending full-time or part-time. These checks were subject to paperwork submission and other "in triplicate" documentation that could delay payment.
Under the MGIB, the approximate value of the entire education package was around $40,000 US and service members had to opt in to the program as well as put forth their own contributions.
To say the least, the new system is definitely designed to give all service members an equal opportunity to better their selves but it does look like those in charge have some work to do.
In the Stars and Stripes report, the House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair, Bob Filner, who is a democrat out of California, said that VA officials were just not working hard enough to get the new system in place and was even quoted as saying:
"I could find a geek to do this stuff for $1 million. We've got kids all over the country that could do this work. Maybe it's a little more complicated than your normal computer work … but it's not that conceptually difficult."
That comment was apparently in response to the Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for the veterans benefits administration excuse that the VA just didn't have what it takes to manage the transition from the old system to the new one. He told members of the House that they didn't "have the technical expertise or manpower to handle the transition," and called the new GI Bill more complex.
Other experts at the VA are calling the new system complicated, so much that they are looking to possibly contract out just to try and meet the August 2009 deadline when veterans are suppose to begin taking advantage of this new program.
Issues surrounding safety of information are some of the more pressing in that if the VA contracts out due to lack of manpower and expertise on how to get the new system going, the Department of Defense data would be handed over to a non-military organization.
However, the immediate concern for service members who enroll in classes under the new GI Bill is that it may all be just a lot of empty promises.
Based upon enlisted pay charts for the United States Military, the base pay for those who are in their first years of service is under $1800 US a month. An individual who joins the service straight out of high school and has no familial commitments makes around $1300 US per month, or around $16,000 US a year.
Single members who reside in a dormitory style residence often shared with other members do not pay for basic utilities or food. Those who have dependents received allowances for certain items such as housing and food, but typically those are still not enough to cover living expenses and are based upon certain areas around military installations which aren't always the best places to live as far as safety. Waiting lists for some "free" military housing can also trickle into years.
The bottom line is that those members who are in the position of needing or wanting to further their education are typically in the lower tier on the payscale. Add to that a family or other financial obligations and the issues that surround the old GI Bill, although a generous plan, may deter some from fulfilling their dreams while they are still young. Those who become veterans and then use their plan are more likely to have many more financial obligations and a lot less time for education. A delay in the new plan doesn't make things any better for those individuals.
As a veteran and a recipient of the old GI Bill, I have seen first hand the financial problems that surround getting ones college education through the outdated system. Delays in checks. Making ends meet Lets get our men and women of the forces where they want to be without the deterring red tape in order to get there.
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