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By Phil McCausland
For weeks, veteran students from across the country have sounded the alarm about the late or erroneous payment of food and beverage allowances, which the Department of Veterans Affairs has imputed to the computer. .
But on Wednesday, the department told Congressional staff that it would not reimburse veterans who were paid less than what was owed to them, two committee members told NBC News.
The news is at odds with a promise made by VA officials to a committee of the House earlier this month to reimburse veterans who would receive less than the total amount they owed. .
However, according to the assistants, the VA declared that it could not make retroactive payments without checking its previous claims for compensation for studies, which would delay future requests. The aides asked not to be identified because they were not allowed to speak in public.
NBC News had previously reported that some veterans were in dire financial straits due to a change in calculation of housing benefits under the Forever GI bill, which President Donald Trump ratified in July 2017. When his computers were unable to handle this change, the VA quickly faced a backlog of veterans claims three times higher than normal.
Because of these problems, the VA had announced Wednesday earlier that it would postpone changes to the GI Forever Housing Allowance in December 2019 – and promised again that retroactive payments would be paid to those who would not receive a correct amount.
VA officials, however, told members of Congress on Wednesday that members of the system would no longer be making retroactive payments to underpaid people because of miscalculations in their housing.
"They will basically ignore the law and say that this change will only be applied from December 2019," said an assistant at NBC News.
The reason the VA decided not to make retroactive payments is that it should audit all of its previous education applications by December 2019, which means it should potentially inspect 2 million applications said the assistant.
VA officials said this could lead to further delays in processing future applications, according to the assistants, a problem that has hurt some veterans earlier this year.
Although this decision may mean that the agency is breaking the law because it would not provide the correct amount to veteran students, as required by two articles of the Forever GI Bill, the VA told staff members of Congress that they had a legal justification allowing them: that they advance with this decision.
They did not share this justification, however.
When asked to comment, a VA spokesperson did not address the issue directly. Instead, he reiterated that the agency would delay the payment of housing benefits in accordance with the new Forever GI bill until spring 2020 and that it would instead pay housing benefits based on the former basic housing allowance rates of the Ministry of Defense.
Attempting to implement the law would impose "a huge administrative burden on schools in which some 35,000 certifying officers would have to retrospectively follow up and recertify hundreds of thousands of registration documents," the spokesperson said. from VA, Curtis Cashour.
Cashour also said that students overpaid because of law changes or because of law enforcement problems "will not be held accountable for the debt".
But he did not comment on those who were underpaid and confusion still reigns around the issue, as it is unclear how many students have been underpaid so far, how many are there. others may be underpaid due to changes to the law and the amount of these fees. veterans are due.
Congressional advisers described the situation as "frustrating". One of them, who commented on the shifting responses and constant confusion arising from VA, asked, "I mean, am I taking crazy pills?
Under-Secretary of Benefits Paul Lawrence is scheduled to testify Thursday morning before the House Veterans Committee.
One of the committee's collaborators said that members of Congress will try to solve this problem before proceeding to the hearing.
"They need to understand," said the assistant.