The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is doing an inconsistent job in outreach for its educational benefits programs, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The office assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of government programs and reports its findings to Congress. Veterans and servicemembers are aware of the benefits they are entitled to but may have a difficult time knowing which of the programs provided by Veterans Affairs they can qualify for, according to the study.
“[The GI Bill] is a very complex program, and servicemembers didn’t always understand whether it was great for them,” said Daniel Bertoni, a director at the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the author of the report.
Once a servicemember opts for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, they are locked into it and become ineligible for other education benefits offered by the association. Students who served since 9/11 are eligible for the bill, which pays for their full tuition and provides a monthly stipend.
“It’s a critical position because if you choose this program, it is irrevocable,” Bertoni said. “You really have to weigh the various programs and options available to you and have the best information so you can make the best decision, and that wasn’t always available to servicemembers.”
The bill creates extra work for the staff because of a requirement that the school complete additional calculations on tuition and fees.
The report found an insufficient focus on veterans with disabilities and suggested Veterans Affairs improve communication with school officials, with greater communication about training events, online materials and email updates.
“Staff that are in the admissions programs and the budget offices need to understand how it works and be able to convey that to the potential servicemembers that want to take advantage of the program,” Bertoni said.
Thomas Colbert, vice president of UT’s Student Veterans Association and a pre-med senior, said his decision to join the military was significantly influenced by the educational benefits that would follow.
Colbert said he has seen the number of veterans at UT soar since the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
“I really think it is because of the massive increase in benefits,” Colbert said.
Bridgette Ingram, associate director in the Scholarships & Financial Aid Office at Texas A&M University, said their staff helps students decide what benefit plan is best for them.
“When [the new GI Bill] first came out, there was some vagueness about the changes and how we would implement it,” Ingram said. “It’s a little more complicated than benefits have been in the past.