FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 23, 2012
SCHUMER: MASSIVE DELAY OF GI BILL EDUCATION BENEFITS LEAVE LONG ISLAND VETS HIGH AND DRY IN PAYING FOR COLLEGE; DELAYS IN PROCESSING CLAIMS IN NY EXCEEED ALREADY HIGH NATIONAL AVERAGE BY 53% IN 2012- WILL ONLY GET WORSE AS MORE SOLDIERS RETURN FROM OVERSEAS
United States Senator Charles E. Schumer, joined by veterans attending college on Long Island, at Farmingdale State College today, called on the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to immediately review and overhaul the administration of GI Bill education benefits out their Buffalo Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office in light of massive delays in the processing of vital college benefits for local veterans. The Buffalo VA Regional Office administers all education benefits for New York veterans and the eastern region of the country. Schumer revealed that while a national backlog of education benefit disbursements for returning vets has resulted in an already unacceptable national average of 30 days for claims processing, education benefits administered by the Buffalo Regional Office to local veterans were backed-up by an additional two weeks, at 46 days. These delays for New York veterans seeking their GI Bill benefits exceed the national delay by a whopping 53% in 2012. Schumer noted that the delay in processing these benefits creates unnecessary hardship for veterans and hits them particularly hard at the time when they need these benefits the most: after they have started the semester. The delays keep veterans from paying for their housing, required books, and transportation costs that are vital to both attending college and meeting academic requirements of their programs.
“We don’t expect delays from our soldiers when they are shipped overseas and placed in a combat zone, we shouldn’t tolerate delays of this magnitude from the Veteran’s Administration when our soldiers seek to use the benefits they are entitled to,” said Schumer. “The national delays are already bad enough, but the massive delays coming out of the eastern regional office in Buffalo are simply beyond the pale.”
In his letter to VA Secretary Shinseki, Schumer called for the VA to review and overhaul how the eastern regional office in Buffalo is processing education benefits. Schumer pointed out that while the national backlog for the administration of GI Bill education benefits has resulted in an already-high 30 days of processing, the delay coming out of the eastern regional office in New York is an additional two weeks, resulting in a 46 day average wait time for New York veterans to receive payment for their education costs in 2012. Both the national average and eastern regional average for the processing of initial education claims far exceed the VA’s own goal of 12 days for processing.
According to data obtained from the Veteran’s Administration and compiled by Schumer’s office, the delays have grown significantly over the last five years in New York and the eastern regional office in particular has consistently outpaced the national average for delays in claims. In 2011, the average time for processing of an original education claim nationally was 24 days, while the average time for New York veterans was 40 days. Thus far in 2012, the numbers have jumped to an average of 30 days nationally and 46 days for New York veterans, who are serviced out of the Buffalo office. Since 2008, the time it takes to administer New York veterans’ education benefits has literally doubled from 23 days to 46 days, a whopping 100% increase. While the number of veterans utilizing GI Bill benefits has increased with the wind-down of the Iraq War and with the return of troops from Afghanistan, the higher than average delays out of the eastern regional office in Buffalo do not correlate with the VA’s stated policy of pinpointing areas of performance weakness and then taking appropriate corrective actions.
*calculated based on monthly averages provided by the VA from 10/1/2011-3/31/2012.
As a point of comparison, processing times in the eastern regional office in New York far surpass other regions of the country, irrespective of the total number of claims being processed in each individual region. The average processing time for claims in the western regional office in Muskogee, Oklahoma, which processed the largest number of claims in the country, was just 20 days thus far in 2012. In the southern regional office in Atlanta, the processing time was 28 days, and in the central regional office in St. Louis, it was 27 days.
Delays in the administration of Basic Allowance Housing (BAH) benefits from the VA are of particular concern because they pay for a veterans housing, books, and transportation costs. Delays on tuition payments from the VA are more manageable for students because colleges are willing to accept students into their programs knowing that they will eventually receive tuition payments from the VA. Unfortunately, benefits for housing, books and transportation impede a veteran’s immediate ability to live, travel, and purchase required materials for the start of the college year. Because many colleges and universities accept students through rolling admissions processes, a 46 day wait for benefits to be disbursed can have a significant effect on the ability of any student, let alone veterans who are just returning to civilian life, to plan for their college costs. Additionally, the application for GI Bill benefits requires registration information like final schedule and confirmation of enrollment from the university that makes applying for those education benefits well in advance of 46 days from the start of a semester difficult.
Schumer pointed out that hundreds of veterans attend Long Island colleges and utilize GI Bill education benefits. SUNY Farmingdale alone has 123 veterans enrolled under the program; Adelphi has over 100 enrolled; Stony Brook has over 180 enrolled; and Nassau County Community College has over 300 veteran students enrolled and using the program. Schumer pointed out that without an overhaul of the eastern regional office’s administration of these benefits, delays will only get worse as more and more veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq return.
“The VA needs to get to the bottom of the problem in New York and overhaul the way these benefits, earned with the blood and sweat of our soldiers, are processed and paid out,” continued Schumer. “It’s unacceptable that a veteran trying to get an education could be held up from purchasing required books or paying for their housing because of bureaucratic inefficiencies at a VA claims processing facility.”
The GI Bill provides benefits to veterans and service members who serve on active duty after September 10, 2001. The program is designed to provide individuals who served on active duty for 36 months and who are pursuing undergraduate studies at public colleges and universities with the full cost of attendance: tuition and fees, housing, books and supplies, tutorial and relocation assistance, and fees for testing and certification, as needed.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to secretary Shinseki can be found below:
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
I write to express my concern regarding delays in education claims processing of service members and veterans educational benefits within New York. My office has experienced an increase in constituent concerns regarding education disbursement, which correlate with a pattern of delayed claims processing in the Buffalo, New York VA Regional Office. These delays seem to be emblematic of a larger problem that has New York outpacing the rest of the nation with processing delays. I would urge the Veterans Administration (VA) to expeditiously resolve this discrepancy with New York regional educational claims disbursements.
As you may be aware, the VA’s national average for disbursement of initial claims is about 30 days for FYTD2012, despite the fact that the agency’s aspirational goal was 12 days, and the Buffalo, New York Regional Office’s average in particular is 46 days – 53% higher than the rest of the country. In reviewing the past 16 months of national and eastern regional data, the region served by the Buffalo, New York VA office consistently outpaces the nation in claim processing delays with the gap sometimes spanning a total of 19 days (Oct. 2011). It is both disheartening and alarming that this disparity has yet to be resolved.
After implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the national average time for completing education claims declined from 39 days in 2010 to 24 days in 2011, but those numbers are rising once again to an average national completion time (for original claims) of 30 days for FYTD2012. With 10% of claims unprocessed as of this March, the recent increase in constituent complaints, and the Buffalo, New York VA Regional Office’s pattern of delays in claims processing, I remain concerned for my home state veterans and service members who rely on these disbursements to manage their family expenses while trying to attend college. I would urge the VA to expeditiously resolve this discrepancy with New York regional educational claims disbursement by overhauling the administration of education claims coming out of your Buffalo office.
Thank you for your attention to this important issue. If you are in need of any additional information please contact my Washington, D.C. office.