Senator seeks to resolve GI Bill payments problem for veterans studying overseas
Stars and Stripes March 31, 2023
Congressional legislation introduced this week would require the Veterans Administration to fix an antiquated payment system, which has resulted in a denial of education benefits for numerous former service members enrolled in schools overseas.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., submitted a bill Thursday that would require the VA to update its technology to pay GI Bill benefits for veterans taking approved courses while attending educational institutions abroad.
“The VA’s technology shouldn’t prevent veterans from receiving these critical benefits, which is why I hope colleagues from both sides of the aisle will join me in passing this common-sense legislation,” Menendez said in a statement Friday.
Veterans advocates have put the number of students affected by the problem as high as 3,000.
The GI Bill Foreign Institution Electronic Payments Act would require the VA to update its current payment system so foreign schools do not need to establish a U.S. bank account or possess an American tax identification number to receive electronic payments from the VA.
“The bill responds to reports that VA wasn’t honoring benefits to veterans studying abroad over technological issues,” Menendez’s office said in the statement.
The problem developed in 2021 when the VA stopped sending paper checks to foreign schools and switched to electronic transfers.
It’s unclear why the VA has demanded foreign colleges get U.S. bank accounts and tax ID numbers, as there is no legal mandate to do so.
Veterans have told Stars and Stripes that they encountered problems at schools throughout Europe and Asia because institutions of higher learning there have no interest in taking those steps.
In May, the House of Representatives passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., to resolve the problem. The vote was 397-15.
But the issue was never taken up by the Senate. Menendez’s legislation aims to change that.