Witness Testimony of Mr. Michael Dakduk, Executive Director Student Veterans America (SVA)
Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano and members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for inviting Student Veterans of America to address the Subcommittee on “Increasing the Functionality of the Post-9/11 GI Bill Claims Processing to Reduce Delays.”
Student Veterans of America (SVA) is the largest and only national association of military Veterans in higher education. Our mission is to provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and after graduation. We currently have over 750 chapters, or student veteran organizations, at colleges and universities in all 50 states that assist veterans in their transition to and through higher education. SVA chapters are organized at four-year and two-year public, private, nonprofit, and for-profit institutions of higher learning. This diverse and direct contact gives SVA a unique perspective on the needs and obstacles faced by our nation’s veterans as they utilize educational benefits in preparation for their future transition into the civilian workforce. This on-the-ground perspective, which comes from every corner of this nation, and our experience in supporting thousands of GI Bill beneficiaries, provides the framework for our testimony regarding the Long Term Solution and other recommendations regarding improvements for the processing of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
The Long Term Solution (LTS), a proposed fully automated end-to-end processing system for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, being implemented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been a topic of discussion since 2010. While the LTS is a behind-the-scenes, information technology (IT) system being rolled out in phases, SVA has concerns with the lack of real-time information currently being provided to student Veterans. We have routinely called for a secure, web-based single portal system that allows student Veterans to see the status of their GI Bill claims in real-time. Currently, student Veterans are only able to track the status of their claims by calling the GI Bill hotline or interfacing with their school certifying official.
The GI Bill hotline has elongated wait times and during periods of heavy call traffic the automated system instructs student Veterans to call back at a later time. This process is highly inefficient and extremely frustrating to Veterans. The LTS should include a single portal where student Veterans can access and view in real-time the status of their GI Bill claims. By providing instantaneous information, student Veterans can make well-informed life decisions based on the timely, or untimely, processing of their GI Bill benefit. We recommend the real-time tracking of GI Bill claims be housed in eBenefits, the current single portal system used for all VA benefits and claims.
The other option for gaining information on the status of a Veteran’s GI Bill claim, and often the most consistent, is for a student Veteran to connect with the school certifying official (SCO) on campus. SCO’s have a private, and by most accounts, reliable hotline for delayed GI Bill claims. However, this is not a long term solution for the timely processing of the GI Bill. SCO’s should have access to a system that allows them to submit certifications of enrollment in a streamlined manner and, most importantly, follow the status of a student Veteran’s claim in real-time. Since SCO’s interact with student Veterans on a regular basis, they are often inundated with questions about the status of a student Veteran’s GI Bill claim. While most SCO’s go above and beyond the responsibilities of their position to provide a student with an appropriate answer, they are clearly overburdened. They must be provided with the adequate systems to process and view the status of a student Veteran’s claim. We recommend that SCO’s be provided the appropriate real-time access to the status of GI Bill claims utilizing 21st century web-based technology.
Both the student Veteran and SCO portal we propose is not a concept unknown to the public or private sector. We liken the concept to that of the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, or UPS. All major shipping services have near real-time tracking of packages worldwide. Not only are customers notified of an estimated time of delivery, but when a hiccup occurs in the delivery of a package, the receiving customer is notified in a timely manner and given a new delivery time. It is difficult to grasp, in a technology-rich society, why the timely processing of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is still a subject of concern. Equally disturbing is the inability of student Veterans to access the status of their claims in real-time. Information Technology systems that are customer-service based and oriented toward serving the student Veteran must be included in the LTS.
Student Veterans of America is grateful for the opportunity to provide this testimony. We thank the Chairman, Ranking Member and the Subcommittee members for their time, attention, and devotion to the cause of strengthening the GI Bill process. We look forward to continuing to work with this Subcommittee, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and the Congress to ensure the success of all generations of Veterans through education.
Thank you for allowing Student Veterans of America to participate in this important Hearing.