Ideally, the transition from servicemember to veteran to student should be seamless, but that isn’t always the case. When hiccups happen, pay can be delayed and, especially for people used to being paid the same amount at the same time every month, those pay delays can get frustrating, not to mention expensive. While the complexity of VA’s regulations mean there are any number of reasons your education benefits, especially your first housing payment, can be delayed, I’m going to cover five common ones here.
1) Missing or Incomplete Application: Whether you were told by your recruiter that signing on the dotted line got you $64,000 dollars for education or your dad told you that you were “entitled” to the GI Bill because he transferred it to you, you can’t actually use your education benefits until you apply for them through the VA. The VA then has to verify your information and you have to get a “letter of eligibility” from them verifying those benefits. By VA regulation, a school can’t stop you from signing up because you haven’t taken this step yet, but the longer you wait, the longer it is going to take to get paid. And, if the VA finds some glitch that causes them to deny your claim, then you end up holding the bill.
If you’re active duty, I recommend you apply for your benefits shortly before you leave active service, so VA has time to process your application and get you that letter before it’s time for you to sign up for classes. That said, if you apply while still on active duty, you’ll need to provide VA a copy of your DD-214 as soon as you get it. Otherwise, VA thinks you are still getting DoD housing and won’t pay you VA housing. If you submitted your DD-214 with your disability claim, then you should be good, but I always suggest attaching one to your electronic application, just in case. (The two arms of VA – VBA and VHA – don’t always play nice and the more work you can do for the VA, the faster your claim gets processed.)
There are lots of other items that could be missing, such as you forgot to elect which benefit you want to give up in order to receive Post-9/11 or you’re a dependent who isn’t in DEERS so they need proof of your relationship to the veteran. If you are a dependent using Post-9/11, you’ll need to be sure you did both parts of the application – the DoD part done by your parent (called transfer of eligibility) and the VA part done by you (VONAPP application). Be sure to read the posts I did on each individual VA education benefit (under “Education and Training: VA Education Benefits” on the menu at the right) to determine what other paperwork you might need to submit.
If you haven’t started your application yet, you can do so here.
2) Regional Processing Office change: Imagine this scenario: You followed that crazy blog Captain’s advice and submitted your application for your GI Bill while still stationed at Cherry Point, NC. Then you leave active duty and move home to live with your parents while you attend school in New York. You know what you want to study, you take advantage of your school’s early registration for veterans program, and you notify your School Certifying Official that you are registered. You even get a letter from the VA showing they processed your certification. So, you start school, confident that you’ve done everything you’re supposed to, and then the first of the month comes, and you don’t get paid. What happened? Well, it is likely to do with your move.
The VA has four Regional Processing Offices and, even though they all use the same system, they don’t always talk to each other. If you submit your application while under one region’s AOR and then end up attending school in another region’s AOR, chances are the VA will process your certification and send you the letter telling you they did BUT, since they don’t have your entire file (the other regional office does), they can’t authorize the payment. If you run into this situation, call the VA Education Line and explain that you switched regional offices and your current regional office will request your file and push your case up one level for authorization. If you know you are crossing regional AOR lines, submit a form VA Form 22-1995 (veterans) or VA Form 22-5495 (dependents) to your new regional office as soon as you sign up for classes and this should preempt any mix up.
You can find the regional AOR breakdown here.
3) Delayed certification: So, in the previous example, my fictional vet did everything right and took advantage of his school’s early registration policy and his SCO was on top of things. What if one or more of these things goes awry?
First, let’s start with the student. Lots of students are procrastinators and wait until the very last minute to sign up. Or, they are those chronic schedule changers who sign up for classes and then make umpteen schedule changes until the add/drop period is over. The longer you take to register, the longer it is going to take to get paid. For starters, the VA can take three weeks or more to process a certification. Then, any changes you make to your schedule have to be reported. If the changes go in before VA processed your original certification, your pay is going to be delayed. So, think carefully about what classes you want to take, meet with an advisor if you need to, sign up early, and try to keep changes to a minimum.
Then, there’s the SCO. Your School Certifying Official is probably a very busy person. Being an SCO may be an additional duty for them, which has to be accomplished on top of all of their regular work, or it may be their full time job, but they may have hundreds or even thousands of students they are responsible for. Or, sadly, they may just have no sense of urgency. Regardless of the situation, it may be weeks after registration closes before your SCO even has time to submit your certification (or any changes you made) to the VA. And then VA may take weeks after that to process the certification and schedule your payment. Give your SCO a reasonable amount of time to submit your certification, but then stay on top of them. You don’t want to be a pest, but it is your pay we’re talking about!
4) No WAVE verification: If you’re using traditional Montgomery GI Bill (Ch 30), MGIB-SR (Ch 1606), or REAP (Ch 1607), you have to verify your attendance each and every month before the VA will release your housing allowance. You can do this on the last day of the month or the first day of the following month. For example, if school started August 20th, you can verify your attendance for August on August 31st or September 1st. Once you attendance is verified, you are usually paid within about 5 business days (sometimes longer). If you forget to verify your attendance, VA will not release your payment. You can verify your attendance here.
Note: Students who were using the VRAP were required to verify using WAVE and future VA education benefits may also require it, so be sure to check the requirements and keep up on any changes to your benefit. Currently, Post-9/11 students do NOT have to verify their attendance.
5) Contested Claim: Overpayment. Such a dreaded word. It basically means VA paid you too much and they want their money back. If you think VA got it wrong and you don’t actually owe them money, or maybe you do but you appeal it because you don’t have the funds to pay it, the VA is going to review it (their overpayment letter will come with directions on how you can contest the debt). If you contest VA’s claim that you owe them money, though, it may halt all future education payments, until VA can determine whether you are right or not. I’m not advocating letting VA take money that isn’t theirs – if you think they got it wrong (and they do sometimes), contest it. Just be sure to talk to them regularly and be prepared that it might mean no future education payments until you have the situation cleared up.
So, these are five reasons why your pay might be delayed. However, as I mentioned at the start, there are a number of reasons that your pay may be delayed. If you don’t get paid on the first on the month, start by contacting your SCO and confirm that your certification was submitted. If the SCO confirms it, then call the VA Education Line (1-888-442-4551 CONUS or 001-716-857-3196 OCONUS) or submit your question via VA’s “Ask a Question” site. Keep in mind that there are over a million veteran students just using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and even more using the other education programs VA administers, so you might have to wait a bit.
Was this post helpful? Was your pay delayed for a different reason than the ones I listed here? Leave a comment and let me know what the reason was and how it was resolved.
© 2014, Sarah Maples. All rights reserved.