Contractor to help VA with GI Bill claims

(MILITARY TIMES)  The Veterans Affairs Department is ready to admit it cannot process GI Bill benefits claims without help, announcing Wednesday that it is seeking an outside contractor to do some preliminary data collection and enrollment certification.

VA’s undersecretary for benefits, Patrick Dunne, said in a statement that a contractor “will assist VA in delivering education benefits to our veterans as quickly as possible.”

The formal solicitation for temporary contract support was issued Oct. 21 but not announced until Oct. 28.

A VA statement said the contractor will be involved in “claims-processing tasks,” but that VA personnel will make final claims decisions and generate payments.

Key tasks to be handled by contractors include validating student enrollment and providing recommendations on whether to pay, the statement said.

“All work will be reviewed and authorized by VA personnel,” the statement said. “VA will provide training on security and claims processing procedures. The contract personnel will assist in handling the least complex cases, which allows for rapid implementation of this initiative.”

The move to seek outside help comes after a rocky start for the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, which launched Aug. 1 after a year of preparation — during which lawmakers kept asking VA officials if they had enough people to handle claims, and VA officials assuring lawmakers that they did. But VA’s goal of processing claims in 20 to 24 days proved too optimistic, and it ended up taking an average 35 days, according to VA testimony to Congress.

The delays led to an unprecedented decision to provide emergency GI Bill payments to student-veterans who did not receive Oct. 1 living stipends.

VA officials said Tuesday about 14,000 student veterans may not receive Nov. 1 living stipends because their GI Bill claims are not completed, but no additional emergency payments will be made. Instead, VA officials said students would receive payments, retroactive to the start of their enrollment, as soon as their claims are completed.

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