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Sen. Doug Jones questions VA decision not to pay full GI benefits to Veterans and their families

Friday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones wrote a letter to VA under Secretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence, who oversees GI Bill benefits at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), seeking answers on behalf of Alabama veterans about the department’s failure to pay thousands of veterans the GI Bill benefits they have earned.

Jones’ action followed a report earlier in the week that the VA did not plan to reimburse veterans who were underpaid as a result of technical errors. An estimated total of 360,000 veterans may be impacted by these errors.

“I am gravely concerned about the impact these errors have had on the thousands of Alabama veterans and their family members who rely on the timely and predictable disbursement of GI Bill benefits,” Senator Jones wrote. “Specifically, I am referring to cases like the one I recently heard about involving a student in my state who lost a parent in combat having to wage her own fight for several months just to have her tuition disbursement corrected. While this student’s case was resolved favorably and her financial good standing restored after several anxiety-filled months, I am told that there may be thousands of other similar cases still pending in Alabama.”

Jones’ letter requests that the VA provide Alabama-specific information about the impact of these errors on veterans and their families in the state, in addition to more details on the agency’s plans to fix the problem and make the impacted beneficiaries whole again.

Senator Jones also joined his colleagues in a bipartisan letter, led by Senators Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and John Boozman, R-Arkansas, calling on the VA Inspector General to launch an investigation into allegations that the VA would not be reimbursing veterans for any missed or underpaid benefits. In their letter, the lawmakers ask about how the technical errors occurred, how quickly any reimbursements will be made, and how the VA plans to make sure all benefits will continue to be paid out without interruption.

“When I brought the issue of GI Bill underpayments up to Secretary Wilkie during a hearing in September, he acknowledged the VA’s error and promised that all affected recipients would be compensated,” Sen. Boozman said. “When recent news reports suggested the VA was not acting to help veterans who have been shortchanged, the department outlined its plans to remedy the situation. Those plans fall short. These veterans must be fully repaid for errors they did not cause and that is what I expect the VA to do.”

Robert Wilkie is the Secretary of the Veterans Administration.

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“Secretary Wilkie may be saying the right things, but until the VA invests money to address the ongoing staffing and IT challenges facing the claims backlog, our veterans will remain robbed of the benefits they were promised,” said Sen. Schatz. “I expect the Secretary to come up with a plan so that the VA can audit and process retroactive payments for underpaid or missed claims. And I look forward to the Inspector General helping us hold him accountable to that plan.”

Doug Jones was elected to fill the remainder of Jeff Sessions (R) term last year. Jones is the only Democrat to win a race for U.S. Senate in Alabama since 1992.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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