Font Size Down Font Size Up Reset Font Size

Sign Up for Committee Updates

 

Witness Testimony of Keith M. Wilson, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Director, Education Service

Good afternoon Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member Boozman, and Members of the Subcommittee.  I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to provide an update on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill (chapter 33 of title 38, United States Code).  My testimony will address the current status of education claims processing for fall 2010 enrollments and critical milestones for VA’s Long Term Solution (LTS).  Joining me today is Mr. Mark Krause, VA Program Manager for the Department of the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic (SPAWAR), who will discuss the implementation of the LTS.  

As the Subcommittee Members know, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most extensive educational assistance program authorized since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944.  Secretary Shinseki and the entire Department are committed to making sure all Servicemembers, Veterans, and their family members eligible for this important benefit receive it in a timely manner so they can focus on what is most important: their education.  We greatly appreciate the guidance and support of this Subcommittee, and Congress as a whole, as we continue our efforts to implement this important legislation.

 Current Workload and Processing

Our focus is on serving our Veterans.  As we have made changes in how we process claims and in how we implement the LTS, above all else, the driving force in our decision making is to ensure that we provide the fastest and most accurate education benefits possible.

I am pleased to report that VA has made tremendous strides in delivering Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in a timely and accurate manner.  We have also made significant progress in the development and deployment of our new processing and payment system.  As of the end of August last year, VA had processed payments for only 8,185 students for the fall 2009 semester.  For the current fall term, VA has already processed payments for more than 135,000 students.  The average time to process an enrollment certification as, of August 31, was 10 days, down from 28 days one year ago.

In June and August, we successfully deployed releases 2 and 2.1 of the LTS.  Through these deployments, we successfully converted over 600,000 chapter 33 claimant records from our interim processing system to the LTS.

We also added greater functionality to that originally planned for the LTS.  Its functionality was expanded to enable payment of retroactive housing allowance adjustments for individuals with Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates that had increased between 2009 and 2010.  Additionally, the LTS was improved to automatically generate letters to individuals that provide information about their benefits.  The LTS was also enhanced to facilitate claims processing for Fry Scholarship recipients.  VA is now processing all Post-9/11 GI Bill claims in the new system, thereby replacing the interim solution and its associated manual processing tools.

Our work is far from over, and, as the Members know, we continue to experience challenges.  We have been unable to deliver all functionality in accordance with the timeline we developed 2 years ago.  Although we are processing all Post-9/11 GI Bill claims in the LTS, functionality to automate key portions of the process has been delayed.  The interfaces with the VA Online Certification of Enrollment (VA ONCE) and the Benefits Delivery Network (BDN) payment system, previously scheduled for September 30, 2010, are now scheduled for October 30, 2010, and December 31, 2010, respectively.  These delays are due to increased functionality needed to improve immediate claims processing capabilities, challenges with conversion of data from the interim system to the LTS, and a more complete understanding of the complexities of the interface with BDN.

Additionally, by working with our key stakeholders, we continue to learn what is needed and make positive changes.  We are working to improve our debt-management processes -- ensuring that refunded payments are accurately credited to overpayments and ensuring that overpayments are handled in an effective manner -- thus minimizing negative impacts on students’ pursuit of their educational goals.  Our guiding principle for system development and deployment has been, and will continue to be, to ensure that the deployment schedule and delivered functionality do not have a negative impact on our ability to pay Veterans.   

Fall 2010 Enrollment

Effective August 1, 2009, section 1002 of Public Law 111-32 expanded the Post-9/11 GI Bill to include the children of Servicemembers who die in the line of duty.  This new authority, known as the “Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship,” is now available for the children of Servicemembers who died in the line of duty since September 10, 2001.  Eligible individuals can receive 36 months of entitlement.  VA began accepting applications for this program on May 1, 2010.  As of September 1, 2010, VA has processed approximately 280 Fry Scholarship claims.   

On June 3, 2010, VA sent a notice to school certifying officials informing them that they may submit enrollment certifications for training pursued during the fall semester even if they do not know a student’s actual tuition and fee charges.  Upon receipt of the student’s actual charges, the certifying official was asked to submit an amended enrollment certification to VA with the corrected information.  This will ensure that students receive their Post-9/11 GI Bill housing allowance and books and supplies stipend in a timely manner for the fall semester. 

As of August 30, 2010, VA has received fall enrollment certifications for more than 200,000 individuals, of which approximately 135,000 have been processed.  We have exceeded our claims processing productivity expectations for the fall 2010 enrollment period.  We set a goal of processing an average of 6 Post-9/11 GI Bill claims per employee per day, or 20 non-Post-9/11 GI Bill claims per employee per day.  We are currently averaging 9.5 Post-9/11 GI Bill claims and 25.4 non-Post-9/11 GI Bill claims processed per employee per day.  The overall volume of claims completed per day has dramatically improved over last year.  During the fall 2009 enrollment, VA was processing an average of 2,000 claims for all benefit programs per day.  We are currently processing more than 10,000 claims per day for all benefit programs    

Payments Since Inception of Program

Since August 1, 2009, VA has paid more than $4.7 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for approximately 340,000 individuals. From August 1, 2009 to July 31, 2010, VA paid $697 million in tuition and fee benefitsto public schools, $618 million to private for-profit schools, and $437 million to private non-profit schools.  VA also paid a total of $41.7 million under the Yellow Ribbon program.  More than 66,000 students have applied to use benefits transferred to them by their spouses or parents. 

Long Term Solution

VA partnered with the SPAWAR to develop an end-to-end claims processing solution that utilizes rules-based, industry-standard technologies, for the delivery of education benefits.  This is our long-term strategy for implementing the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill contains eligibility rules and benefit determinations that will work well with rules-based technology that requires minimal human intervention.

VA’s automated system is being released in four phases to ensure robustness and stability.  Release 1 of this effort, which was deployed on March 31, 2010, was limited to a “pilot” release and delivered the capability to complete new original claims; automatically calculate awards including tuition and fees, housing, books and supplies, Yellow Ribbon, and Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty and Reserve Educational Assistance Program kickers; and automatically calculate awards for overlapping terms and intervals.

VA deployed Release 2 of the Post-9/11 GI Bill LTS to the Regional Processing Offices (RPO) on June 30, 2010.   This release allowed VA to process changes in enrollment information, claims for Fry Scholarship students, and claims for transfers of entitlement.  This functionality also allowed for expanded letter generation from the new system.  Additionally, data conversion from the Interim Solution Front End Tool database to the LTS occurred for 153,000 cases without payments.  Development of this release and the data conversion activities were more complex than expected, and not all of the originally planned functionality was delivered on June 30, 2010.  In order to minimize the need to manually reconcile data or BAH payments, a subsequent Release 2.1 was developed to complete the data conversion process for all remaining cases, conduct BAH payment adjustments, and provide any remaining Release 2 functionality.   

Release 2.1 was deployed on August 23, 2010.  This release replaced the functionality of the interim solution and associated manual processing tools.  Release 2.1 converted the approximately 393,000 records from the Interim Solution and made BAH adjustments for approximately 150,000 individuals.  Beneficiaries received BAH adjustments on or about September 7, 2010.  Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries had received housing allowances based upon the 2009 BAH rates until September 1, 2010, due to limitations of our manual processing procedures.  Release 2.1 allowed for the transition to 2010 BAH rates, and generated retroactive payments to compensate students for any increase in housing rates due, since the Department of Defense's  implementation of the new rates in January 2010.  Other major functionality included in Release 2.1 included capability for reconciliation of converted data, and batch interfaces of converted data to the BDN and the LTS.  Currently, Veterans Claims Examiners at the four RPOs are processing Post-9/11 GI Bill claims using the LTS.   

The delay of Release 2.1 of the LTS affected future releases.  Release 3 was originally scheduled for deployment on September 30, 2010; however, this schedule date will be adjusted.  The realignment of priorities with respect to BAH 2010 adjusted payments, data conversion, extensive testing required for Release 2.1, and the complexity of interfacing with the legacy BDN will impact the range of functionality that can be delivered in Releases 3 and 4.   VA is examining the deliverable schedule to determine the functional elements that are achievable by December 2010.  It is anticipated that the delay in Release 3 will also impact Release 4, which was originally scheduled for December 2010.  SPAWAR will determine the impact to Release 4 after completing an assessment of the Release 3 schedule.

The LTS is based on industry standard service-oriented architecture.  This provides a high degree of integration potential and interoperability meaning the system will be able to adapt to future needs.  Additionally, the LTS is based on a rules engine that is modifiable to account for future needs.  While the system is inherently flexible, it is not possible for VA to determine a specific timeframe to adapt to required changes until the precise changes are defined from a functional requirements perspective.  Therefore, VA is unable to commit to being able to implement potential changes within a specific timeframe.  VA believes a generally accepted timeline of 24-36 months to incorporate significant system changes should be considered.

Outreach – Summer/Fall 2010

VA continues to conduct a nationwide outreach and media campaign focused on two goals:  to increase general awareness of its education programs, emphasizing the Post 9/11 GI Bill; and to provide eligible participants with clear and easily accessible information through the GI Bill Web site (www.GIBILL.va.gov). 

Some of the principal components of the campaign will facilitate the following improvements:

  • Establish a basic strategy and plan, with a single cohesive message and pathway to the GI Bill Web site;
  • Revamp and update the GI Bill Web site for ease of use and navigation;
  • Reach advertising visibility targets of 20 percent for national general awareness and 80 percent for our direct customers; and
  • Enhance existing social-media platforms like our Post-9/11 GI Bill Facebook page to include campaign material.

In the fall of 2009 and again this year, VA placed ads highlighting the Post-9/11 GI Bill in print and Web outlets in an effort to reach eligible participants and key stakeholders, like higher education personnel.  Ads were placed in magazines such as Marine Corps Times and Chronicle of Higher Education.  Web ads were placed on Web sites such as GIJobs.com and Military.com.

In addition, VA also partnered with NASCAR to increase awareness of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Working with The Racer’s Group (TRG) Motorsports, we placed the Post-9/11 GI Bill logo and Web address on the rear panel (TV Panel) of the #71 racecar of Bobby Labonte for the Coca-Cola 600 during Memorial Day weekend, which was broadcast on Sunday, May 30, 2010, on the Fox network.  Additionally, the Speed Channel broadcast the practice sessions live on Saturday afternoon, May 29, 2010.

Our return on investment for participating in NASCAR was very positive.  An estimated 6.5 million people watched the race, 165,000 attended the race, and approximately 700,000 Servicemembers deployed overseas watched and listened to the race broadcast over the Armed Forces TV and Radio Network.  Hits to the GI Bill Web site increased by 29 percent Saturday - the day before the race – and 34 percent during the race.  Additional coverage of the race, mentioning the Post-9/11 GI Bill, was also in USA Today, the New York Post, NASCAR.com, Motorsports.com, Twitter, and Facebook.

ESPN and NASCAR studies show that one-third of the average 6.5 million television viewers are Veterans or on active duty, and most NASCAR fans have an influencer relationship with a Veteran.  NASCAR’s strong influence in both rural and Active Duty/Deployed audiences are in full alignment with the goals of our outreach plan.

Building upon the success of the Coca Cola 600 race, the Post-9/11 GI Bill was also featured at the September 10 and 11 NASCAR races in Richmond, Virginia.  The race weekend was officially called “The Post-9/11 GI Bill Weekend at Richmond International Raceway.”  The GI Bill logo and Web address was prominently featured for the entire race weekend and in pre- and post-event media coverage.

Conclusion

While recognizing we will not meet all of the key milestones in our aggressive development and deployment schedule for the LTS, VA is nevertheless proud of its achievements in overcoming significant challenges and successfully transitioning from an inadequate temporary system to a state-of-the-art processing system that promises to deliver significantly improved automation and consistency.  VA has shown dramatic improvement over the last year in its ability to deliver timely and accurate benefits derived from this important legislation.  Recognizing that much of the fall enrollment period is still before us, we remain vigilant and focused on ensuring we are timely in meeting the needs of our Veterans.  We are indebted to the Subcommittee for its consistent support.

Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my statement.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or any of the other Members of the Committee may have.


GI BILL UPDATE
September 16, 2010

AGENDA

  • Current Workload and Processing

  • Fall Enrollment Progress

  • Expenditures

  • Long Term Solution (LTS)

  • Outreach

Ch 33 Then and Now: Fall Progress

  Fall Progress

Fall 2010 Enrollment

  • Productivity exceeding goal

  • Chap 33 at 9.5/day/VCE (Goal is 6)

  • Non Chap 33 at 25.4/day/VCE (Goal is 20)

  • One year ago, 2,000 claims for all benefit programs per day. Today, over 10,000 claims for all benefit programs per day.

  • Average of 24 days to process chapter 33 originals, and 14 days for chapter 33 enrollment certifications

Chapter 33 Benefits Since Inception

  • As of 9/1/2010, VA has paid over $4.7 billion to 340,000 individuals and their schools

  • Approximately $2.1B to schools and $2.6B to students

  • Between August 1, 2009 and July 31, 2010, VA paid a total of $1.75B to schools:

  • $618M to for-profit schools

  • $437M to private, non-profit schools

  • $697M to public schools

  • $41.7M of the above figures was paid under the Yellow Ribbon Program

LTS: Expected vs. Actual Functionality

Expected Functionality

R1:  Replace functionality of FET and Job Aid; Adjudicate original and supplemental claims. 3/30/2010

R2:  Expansion of R1 functionality and automated data feeds for claim and Veteran information. 6/30/2010

R3:  Automated data feeds to financial processing system and school enrollment interface. 9/30/2010

R4:  Expansion of previous release functionalities and Veteran Self-Service capability.12/31/2010

Actual Functionality

R1:  Replaced by Limited Release 1 – Pilot release to subset of users; New original claims only. 3/30/2010

R2:  Replace functionality of FET and Job Aid; Adjudicate original and supplemental claims. Converted 150,000 non-pay records from FET to LTS. 6/30/2010

R2.1:  Converted 393,000 records with payments from FET to LTS. Adjusted BAH rates and authorized retroactive payments for 153,000 students. 8/23/2010

R3:  School enrollment interface. Release delayed 1 month, does not include payment interface. 10/30/2010

R4:  BDN payment interface and other data feeds. 12/31/2010; begin incorporating Veteran self-service components. Spring 2011

Causes of LTS delays

  • Delay in full interim system deployment

  • Job Aids to augment limited functionality

  • Added Functionality to meet urgent needs

  • BAH housing retroactive payments and adjustments

  • Automated letter generation

  • Fry scholarship

  • Data conversion complexity

  • Improved understanding of payment interface complexity

  • BDN interface needed to address FAS unavailability

What Congress Can Do

  • Long Term Solution (LTS)

  • Legislative action has the potential to negatively impact full deployment of the LTS

  • Post-9/11 GI Bill

  • VA believes a generally accepted timeline of 24-36 months to incorporate significant system changes should be considered.

Outreach

  • VA is conducting a nationwide media campaign to:

  • Increase general awareness of our education programs

  • Provide clear and easily accessible information through the GI Bill Web site.

  • Key goals of the FY 2010 fall campaign:

  • Establish a single cohesive message and pathway to the GI Bill Web site

  • Revamp the GI Bill website for ease of use and navigation

  • Reach advertising visibility targets of 20 percent for national general awareness and 80 percent for our direct customers

  • Enhance existing social media platforms (i.e. Post-9/11 GI Bill Facebook page) to include campaign material

Outreach Activities

NASCAR Sponsorship

 
 

Saturday, Sept 11, 2010
7:30 PM; ABC Sports & AFN
Richmond, VA

Photograph of NASCAR race car with GI Bill Logos

Photograph of NASCAR Car trailer with GI Bill Logo

NASCAR

Demographics

  • One out of three military service members are NASCAR fans

  • Nineteen percent of NASCAR fans have served, or are currently serving in the military.

Event

  • Car Sponsorship for AirGuard 400.

  • Richmond International Raceway weekend sponsorship.

Value

  • Viewership of 6.6 million on ABC

  • Additional viewership of 1 million on the Armed Forces Network

  • An average of 4 million radio listeners

  • Kickoff for “My Story” clips

“My Story” Videos

2 videos completed
2 additional underway
Rollout at AirGuard 400
PSA usage

Photograph of Servicemember

Photograph of Servicemember

Outreach Activities

Mike Rowe on Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits

Photograph of Mike Rowe on Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits

http://www.mikeroweworks.com/2009/11/post-911-gi-bill/