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Jones, Gardner introduce legislation to help student veterans recover unpaid costs

Former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones.

U.S. Senators Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, introduced the Fix Immediately Outstanding Underpayments (IOUs) for Student Veterans Act. The sponsors say that the legislation will force the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to pay student veterans money they are entitled to, but did not receive because of the VA’s own error.

Veterans advocates say that when the VA failed to implement the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, many student veterans did not receive the full benefits they are entitled to. Last Friday, Jones sent a letter to the senior VA leader overseeing GI Bill benefits seeking answers from the VA about the situation.

“When young men and women step up to serve our country in uniform, we make a solemn promise to have their backs when they come home,” Jones said. “We commit to provide them the tools needed to re-enter civilian life and to earn an education that will enable them to serve our communities in new ways. When I heard that thousands of veterans in Alabama and across the country were being underpaid – or not paid at all – for their GI Bill benefits and that the VA might not make them whole, I was appalled. While I’m glad the VA has since begun to reverse course, action from Congress is needed to make sure that these veterans receive what they’re owed.”

Gardner echoed that sentiment.

“The VA let these veterans down and this cannot be tolerated,” Gardner said. “First, the VA made a mistake and did not properly pay student veterans the money they are entitled to; and now the VA is failing in their responsibility again by not providing a plan to pay those students back quickly. Most problems Congress addresses are complicated and do not have one ‘right’ answer. This is not one of those issues. To me, it’s pretty clear what the right thing to do is: Congress must act to ensure our student veterans receive every penny they are entitled to.”

Jones also joined his colleagues last week in a bipartisan letter, led by Sens. 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.

The Jones-Gardner legislation will set up a commission at the VA to ensure all monthly stipends are audited, and force the VA to pay back students who were underpaid. Additionally, this legislation will ensure the VA does not take back money from students they overpaid through their error.

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Jones is a former U.S. Attorney who was elected a year ago in a special election for U.S. Attorney where he defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore (R). Jones is the only Democratic candidate to win any statewide race in Alabama since 2008.

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

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