Student veterans receive VA checks after wait

By Blaise Mesa

This article was updated 2/19/2019 at 11:45 a.m. to include quotes from Lauren Augustine, vice president of government affairs for Student Veterans of America. 

Months after a glitch in the Department of Veterans Affairs caused delayed payments to student veterans, some student veterans are claiming their checks are late again.

Senior audio design and production major Nick Novak served in the Navy from 2007-2013. Novak sets his bills to autopay, and when his check for February did not come in on the first, his account was overdrafted. To avoid fees, he borrowed money from his girlfriend.

Luckily for Novak, and his 6-year-old daughter, his check was deposited Feb. 6. Novak said those checks are his source of steady income because his full-time job is based on commission.

Special Programs Coordinator for Veterans and Graduate Students Paul Loretto said in a Feb. 6 email to The Chronicle that the delayed payments were not due to the government shutdown, as some students thought.

The Chronicle reported Dec. 10, 2018, about Columbia veterans not receiving their monthly checks or receiving incorrect amounts. At the time, Loretto said he was told by the VA that the missed payments were the result of a computer error, which may not be corrected until Spring 2019. Loretto told The Chronicle in December that “more than 100 students receive benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which grants tuition funds and housing stipends to veterans who are eligible.”

The VA is fully funded through 2019 and any future shutdown would not cause delayed payments.

Lauren Augustine, vice president of government affairs for Student Veterans of America, said there was a lag during the beginning of the semester for student veterans waiting for payments, but getting paid the first week of the month is normal and even common. Student Veterans of America is a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to providing veterans with the resources and support they need to succeed in higher education.

Processing times for VA payments are 18 days for first-time enrollments and 14 days for re-enrollments, according to VA spokesperson Terrence Hayes in a Feb. 8 emailed statement to The Chronicle.

Hayes also said housing payments can be disbursed anytime during the first week of the month. Student veterans with financial hardships due to “alleged” delayed payments can call the Education Call Center at 1-888-442-4551.

Augustine said not knowing exactly when payments are supposed to come in is something students will have to deal with, but that there is a push for the VA to be more transparent about the process. 

During the week without his benefits, Novak only spent money on gas for his car. Even though the VA has funding, he is going to limit spending in the coming months in case anything happens.

“I have a family that I need to take care of,” Novak said. “When money I’m expecting to have isn’t there, that can have very serious repercussions.”

Listen to the Feb. 11 episode of “Chronicle Headlines” for additional reporting.