I used part of my Montgomery GI Bill to finish my undergraduate degree when I separated from the Air Force. By the time I was ready for graduate school, the Post-9/11 GI Bill had started and I quickly converted to the new program and enrolled at American University in Washington, D.C. During the last year of my graduate program, I started working for VA and learned that there are many moving parts behind the scenes each semester as tens of thousands of students head back to school on the GI Bill. I also learned a few tips I’d like to pass on to you on how to help get your claim processed quickly.
VA knows that every semester there will be a surge of GI Bill claims from Veterans and their family members. That is why VA has hired more than 700 new employees to process GI Bill claims. Also, a couple weeks prior to the start of every semester, we ramp up our plan to process education claims as quickly as possible.
Behind the scenes we are planning how to best communicate with you so every GI Bill recipient feels informed and has a chance to engage with us. In fact, we are conducting a twitter chat on Thursday, September 13, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. EST. You can Tweet your questions using the hash tag #askVBA and we will connect with you through the @VAVetBenefits Twitter account. We are also regularly updating our Facebook pages with information, tips and resources.
We are also preparing our employees to ensure we process every claim with the care it deserves. Our education claims processors are working overtime so you don’t have to wait longer than necessary. Each processor is sacrificing personal time because they understand you sacrificed for us by serving. We’ve updated staffing plans and targeted how we divide claims between offices so no Regional Processing Office gets overwhelmed with the sudden influx. We’ve pulled employees from other departments to work education claims and help lower processing times.
Yet despite our efforts, some Veterans and family members may still wait for payment. Last fall, it took us an average of 23 days to process a GI Bill claim and while we adjust our methods based on lessons learned from prior semesters, the bottom line is every semester more and more Veterans are taking advantage of this benefit. While that is good news and it’s exactly how we want it, it also means individual delays are likely.
There are a few things you can do to help your claim get processed:
1) Connect with your school’s Veterans certifying official and encourage him or her to send us your enrollment paperwork as soon as possible. To help understand when you can expect payment, ask your counselor if the school waits until after the add/drop deadline before submitting Veterans’ paperwork, which is when VA will receive the majority of back to school claims; or if they submit the information as soon as your enrollment is complete.
2) Remember to update your school’s Veterans certifying official if you change your class enrollment, especially if you drop below full time. This can affect payment from VA and overpayment could be deducted from future awards.
3) Find out what benefits your school offers Veterans. My undergraduate institution allowed Veterans to defer their tuition until the end of the semester interest free. Many schools offer scholarships for Veterans, as do some private organizations. And many state Departments of Veterans Affairs and Veterans Service Organizations offer Veterans help with rent and bills if you get behind.
4) If you have confirmed that your school has returned your required paperwork and you still have additional questions about your payment, call: 1-888-GIBILL-1. We are experiencing high call volumes and you may need to schedule a call-back appointment. In the meantime, you can also find answers to frequently asked questions here.
Finally, enjoy the college experience, find other Veterans on campus and do your best to achieve all your academic goals – it’s well worth it.
Cat Trombley is a communications specialist with the Veterans Benefits Administration. Prior to working for VA, she was an assistant director at a the Veteran Service Organizations and represented Veterans before the Board of Veteran Appeals. She is also an Air Force Veteran.