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VA to write emergency checks under GI Bill

The payments are a stopgap measure so veterans can stay in school while the agency catches up on processing claims.

September 26, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Veterans Affairs Department said Friday that it would begin issuing emergency checks of up to $3,000 to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans whose payments under the new GI Bill have been delayed.

Tens of thousands of veterans from the recent wars have been awaiting payments under the newly enacted Post 9/11 GI Bill, which was the largest expansion of education benefits since World War II.

"It's clear to me that we have to do something, just to be on the safe side to alleviate any stress that students are facing," Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said late Friday afternoon in an interview.

The checks will be distributed starting Oct. 2 at 57 regional VA offices across the country. The VA said it expects to send representatives to schools with large veteran populations and to work with veterans' groups to help students with transportation needs.

About 25,000 claims are pending that may result in the emergency payments to students, the VA said. The payments, which go toward housing and books, will be deducted from future education payments.

Shinseki said he hoped that the emergency payments would buy enough time for veterans to stay in school while the VA gets caught up on processing. He said a good portion of the delays stem from the wait as universities send in final counts on veterans' classwork after drop-and-add periods end.

"We're very much using this as sort of a lessons-learned process for how we adjust next time," Shinseki said.

The agency has reassigned staff members and has claims processors working overtime. Shinseki said the process should become more efficient after it is automated next year.

Since May 1, the VA has said, nearly 290,000 claims for benefits have been filed under the new GI Bill, and about a quarter are pending. The average processing time is 34 days.

Under the bill, the maximum benefit allows eligible veterans to attend a public college or university for free for four years, and provides a monthly housing stipend and up to $1,000 a year for books.

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