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Blumenthal: Those responsible for GI Bill benefit debacle will be held accountable

Sen. Richard Blumethal, D-Conn., poses a series of questions to U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Blumenthal told Coats that "the American people deserve to know whether or not the president directed his top intelligence officials to effectively counter this continuing act of war on our country."

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By JULIA BERGMAN | The Day, New London, Conn. | Published: December 15, 2018

HARTFORD (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Friday he expects there to be a congressional hearing early in the new Congress to "pin down" who is accountable for delays in education benefit payments to hundreds of thousands of veterans across the country.

On Aug. 1, expanded veteran education benefits were supposed to kick in as part of federal legislation signed by President Donald Trump known as the Forever GI Bill. The VA was late in issuing these benefits to some recipients, or in some cases paid the wrong amount, due to multiple computer issues that occurred when implementing new reimbursement rates under the federal legislation.

A proposal in the Senate to reimburse veterans for missed or underpaid benefits is unlikely to pass in the waning days of this lame duck session, but Blumenthal said the legislation will be reintroduced when the new Congress convenes in January.

"There's bipartisan outrage on this issue," he said.

The latest update from the VA is that it will pay veterans new rates, in compliance with the Forever GI Bill, started in spring 2020.

The issue created a chaotic fall for educational institutions and veterans, just as school was starting.

At Quinnipiac University in Hamden, there's about 200 GI Bill beneficiaries. Jason Burke, director of veterans and military affairs at Quinnipiac, said at this point the students have gotten their housing allowance "all squared away" but there's a handful still awaiting the difference in tuition.

The "biggest rub" was the lack of communication by the VA about the issues, Burke said, noting it created a logistical nightmare for the school.

About 1,100 students at the University of Connecticut use the benefit, said Michael Zacchea, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who heads the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities at UConn.

"People should be screaming about this," Zacchea said. "It's unacceptable."

When veterans see issues like this happening, it can discourage them from using a benefit, or more specifically in this case, going to school, said Jay Braca, a transition assistance advisor for the Connecticut National Guard. "They're saying maybe 'Is this a viable option? Should I be relying on education to get me to the next stage in life?'"

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