TREA email Newsletter (10/31/2018)

October 31, 2018
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 Inside this issue
TREA “The Enlisted Association” Washington Update
TREA “The Enlisted Association” Washington Update
VA Computer Problems Cause Hardships for Student Veterans
According to a report from NBC News, a computer software issue has resulted in major problems for the VA and as a result it is struggling to pay student veterans the housing allowance and other benefits provided to them via the GI Bill.

The problems range from paying some veterans too much, some too little or some nothing at all. It is up to two months late on payments in other cases, forcing potentially thousands of former service members to have severe financial problems.

According to the VA the issue stems from an IT problem caused by changes to the law when President Donald Trump signed the Forever GI Act last year. New standards for calculating housing stipends were to be implemented on Aug. 1, but it caused “severe critical errors” during testing that resulted in incorrect payments.

Because of that the VA decided to postpone the deployment of the system. It is now paying students under 2017 rates, thus ignoring the 1 percent increase for 2018. It plans to reimburse students the difference they are owed at some point in the future.

Until it processes every veteran’s enrollment documents the VA won’t know how many veterans are affected by the delayed payments but it expects that 360,000 veterans will have to be paid the 2017 rate.

The VA has hired 202 temporary employees to process the claims and it hopes the problem can be solved by the end of the year.

Rep. David Roe, (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, began looking into the matter in mid-September. In a letter to Under Secretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence on Sept. 28, Roe wrote that the problem appeared to stem from student certifications not properly transferring from one system to another, causing “students’ certification [to be] lost and not making it to the payment program that provides the monthly living stipend.” He also noted that this was of particular concern because the VA’s workload for education claims increased by 52 percent between Sept. 22, 2017, to Sept. 21, 2018 – from 163,771 to 248,396.

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First Ever DoD Audit Is Finished – Finally
After “only” 26 years, the Department of Defense has finally completed its first audit. Now, however, DoD officials are afraid it could generate a public backlash when it is revealed how DoD has spent its trillions of dollars.

The audit will be released Nov. 15 or 16.

TREA has written and complained about this for years. When DoD has gone hunting for money because it complains it wasn’t given enough by Congress, it has inevitably looked at what it spends on retirees and retiree health care and has relentlessly sought to cut those benefits.

Yet while complaining about not having enough funds, the fact is DoD officials did not know where all of its money was or what it was spent on. For years we have heard stories about vast sums of money spent on ridiculous things or piles of cash that turned up or went missing in Iraq or Afghanistan.

We think DoD should be worried about public backlash, but transparency is vital in a free society. We, the taxpayers, deserve to know where our money is being spent.

According to the testimony given to the House Armed Services Committee last January by one DoD official, the Pentagon was expected to spend close to $1 billion to carry out its first expansive audit and start fixing problems the auditors identify.

We think it’s money well spent.

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VA amends regulations on VA pension and other needs-based programs
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently amended its regulations governing entitlements to VA pension and Parents’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, which are need-based programs.

The amended regulations bring consistency to the pension process and ensure benefits are available for Veterans and survivors with financial need,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “They will help maintain the integrity of and provide clarity to our needs-based pension program.”

VA’s pension program provides monthly benefit payments to eligible wartime Veterans and their survivors with financial need.

The pension regulations, which were updated Oct. 18, cover the following:

  • Establish a clear net-worth limit for income and assets for Veterans to qualify for pension,
  • Establish a 36-month look-back period to review asset transfers at less than fair market value that reduce net worth and create pension entitlement,
  • Establish up to a five-year penalty period to be calculated based on the portion of the covered assets that would have made net worth excessive, and
  • Updates medical expense definitions for consistency with VA internal guidelines.

The changes are intended to ensure VA only pays benefits to those Veterans with a genuine need. For more information on VA’s pension program, visitwww.benefits.va.gov/PENSION/.

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