More veteran and military-affiliated students have been affected by delays in benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs this year than in previous years.
The VA’s information technology department has faced a series of technology glitches over the past several weeks preventing them from issuing tuition and housing benefits to veterans, NBC News reported last week. Officials said they have noticed an uptick in the number of GW veterans affected by delays this year, but the office has offered impacted students loans and fee waivers.
Andrew Sonn, the director of the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services, said in a typical year, students wait between one and three weeks on average to receive their benefits. But this year, Sonn said the office has noticed more students who are waiting between four and six weeks.
The office cannot estimate how students are affected by the delays because the VA sends some benefits directly to students, he said. He said the office reached out to students in the military community more than once during the fall semester through email listservs to warn them about the delays.
The office offers emergency loans, late fee waivers and suspensions of account holds for students who are affected financially by the delays, Sonn said. He said staff are also available to answer questions for students who are struggling with delays.
Sage Avichouser, a sophomore, said she receives monthly stipends for food and other costs of living from the VA because she is the dependent of a disabled or deceased veteran. Normally, she gets her stipend on the first of each month, but she said she only received her first payment of the school year last week.
She said she used her savings and financial support from her parents to cover costs through the bulk of the semester.
“It would be nice if the VA updated their computers and their systems, but it’s looking like that won’t be done in time for spring semester,” she said.
Despite the VA’s attempts to communicate with affected students, Avichouser said information on payments has still been difficult to obtain because the website was down briefly, and calls to the VA often mean waiting on hold for hours at a time.
Avichouser said the delays caused her to wonder at some points whether she would have enough money to eat.
“It’s really stressful to not have any money in your bank account because you have to pay for food and other miscellaneous things,” Avichouser said.
Will Manthei, a freshman and dependent of a veteran, said although his payments were delayed by a month, the veteran affairs office ensured the holdup had minimal impact on his education by waiving his expenses.
“The VA as a government organization has always been notoriously slow,” he said. “But that had no effect on me because the GW office can waive housing fees until they understand that I’ve received the benefits.”
Ryan Welch, the president of the GW Veterans, said he budgets for his checks from the VA to come two months behind schedule and often has to pay rent on his credit card to make payments on time. He said he did not get paid his benefits for August and September until Oct. 15.
“It basically just allowed me to pay down whatever credit card I had ran up at that time period,” he said. “You just kind of have to budget and forecast for that to happen.”
Christian Manning, the program manager at the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services, said the University has not received tuition payments for some of their benefit-dependent students at all this school year. While the delay in benefits has caused several issues, like late fees for tuition and housing costs and holds on registration, the University has been very involved in accommodating for the delays when possible, he said.
“We were able to process them and we didn’t let it become a problem for registration purposes,” he said. “I will say from a personal note, I’m hoping that the VA gets their stuff together by the time next semester rolls around.”
Manning said that while students have mostly been able to overcome registration and tuition issues by communicating with the Office of the Registrar, off-campus students who rely on VA benefits to pay their rent and other costs of living remain financially vulnerable.
“Students haven’t gotten their housing allowance – and some have, some haven’t – which basically means that at a couple of months into the semester, some of them can’t afford to pay their rent,” he said. “And that’s really problematic.”