(BIVN) – A Hawaiʻi federal lawmaker is calling for the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay thousands of veterans the benefits they are owed after they were underpaid due to a technical error.
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), a top Democrat on the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, is joining U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Vice Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, demanding that the VA pay back the estimated 360,000 veterans impacted by the errors. A November 28 story by NBC News reported the VA told Capitol Hill it won’t retroactively retroactively reimburse underpaid veterans.
“The VA’s current position is that the only way to fix this is to freeze current payments. That is Orwellian in its incompetence, and it is offensive in the real harm that it does to veterans who put their lives on the line for our country,” said Senator Schatz.
The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Secretary Wilkie:
We are writing regarding reports that the VA will not provide retroactive payments for missed or underpaid monthly housing stipends that it failed to pay veterans during delayed implementation of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act (P.L. 115-48).
According to NBC News on November 28, 2018 (“Veterans Affairs Dept. tells Capitol Hill it won’t repay underpaid GI Bill benefits recipients”), VA officials told congressional staff that making retroactive payments to veterans for missed or underpaid housing stipends would not be possible because it would create auditing challenges for the VA and delay future claims processing.
The VA’s position is unacceptable and deeply ignorant of the financial burden that too many of our veterans and their families now face because of its gross mismanagement. We are not asking the VA to create more problems for itself by expediting a fix for processing housing stipends that could cause further delays or missed payments. But we are demanding that the VA do right by our veterans. There is no question the government should provide retroactive payments to these veterans; we must. The question is how we will restore our veterans’ confidence in the VA’s ability to continue to deliver the care and benefits that they earned and we promised them. That is your responsibility.
You need to begin by ensuring the VA has the budgetary resources to make timely beneficiary payments. The VA faces critical IT infrastructure challenges at its processing centers and beneficiary claims staffing shortages. We anticipate these challenges getting worse as VA staff shift claims workloads to address retroactive payments and make veterans whole for under- or missed payments of their monthly housing stipend.
As you prepare to submit your fiscal year 2020 budget to Congress, we expect your request to include the appropriate funding to improve IT infrastructure, including a plan to acquire commercial off-the-shelf technology that may increase efficiency while saving money. We also expect your request to include a plan to address staffing shortages across the VA system, including those at the Veterans Benefits Administration that will help the VA meet its obligation to provide retroactive housing stipend payments and avoid future benefits processing challenges that risk eroding veterans’ confidence in the VA.
Thank you for your continued support of our veterans and the families we all serve. We look forward to your response and further engagement as we work to ensure the VA has the resources it needs to continue to deliver high quality healthcare and benefits to our veterans.