The GI Bill tuition payments to a Texas community college have ended up in the bank account of a single student — who has been unable to get the Veterans Affairs Department to take it back.
More than $100,000 has piled up in the student's account since March, while Temple College has not received any tuition and fee payments from VA for its other students. The school has tried to enlist the help of Congress after discovering the problem, but VA has not responded to the inquiries of congressional staff members.
"I am completely baffled as to how this situation occurred in the first place, and how five months later, VA has not resolved it," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman whose staff has tried to figure out what happened and how to get the payments fixed. "VA needs to investigate this problem expeditiously and adopt appropriate measures to ensure it doesn't happen again."
VA officials said Friday that they had figured out the problem and were moving to correct it. "VA regrets the error and expects to resolve this situation in the coming week," said spokesman Josh Taylor.
The issue appears to have begun innocently. In March, a student veteran, who has asked not to be identified, may have confused VA when filling out a form to have his Post-9/11 GI Bill living stipends and book allowance deposited into his own bank account, according to congressional staffers trying to sort out the problem. The form faxed to VA may have given the impression he was changing the bank account routing number for the entire school, when he was just trying to update his own.
VA officials said the form was unusual, causing it to be carefully reviewed before being determined — incorrectly — to be a valid request for the college to have money deposited into a different bank account. New procedures will be put in place to prevent the same thing from happening again, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The student appeared to have noticed the problem right away, and tried on his own, unsuccessfully, to get VA to correct the deposits.
In the meantime, the student has been reluctant to spend any of the money — even his own portion, which included his monthly living stipends — because he doesn't want to be accused of impropriety, congressional staffers and school officials said.
A Texas television station, KWTX News 10, broke the news about missing tuition money for about 20 student veterans on July 10. The TV station said one student who dropped some classes asked the school to return tuition payments to VA, but there was no money to return. VA started deducting the overpayment from her monthly living stipend.
Temple College gave the student money to repay VA — a good-will gesture, since the school itself was never paid. VA officials also have contacted that student to make sure her situation is fixed.
Miller praised the college for its action in supporting its students in this situation. "I commend Temple College for helping our student veterans who have experienced problems," he said, while calling on VA to get the GI Bill payments fixed so that other students are not dropped from classes or turned over to debt collectors.