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VA seeks contractor help for Post 9/11 GI Bill

By Ed O'Keefe

Problems with the Post 9/11 GI Bill persist at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is now seeking a contractor to help process payments for the program.

The department's request for outside help comes as the Obama administration rolls out new contracting reform guidelines that instruct agencies and departments to cut contracting costs by 7 percent over the next two years. The guidelines also will eventually define "inherently governmental" tasks that can only be conducted by government employees. (Is the processing and distribution of veterans benefits "inherently governmental"? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.)

President Obama signed the education benefits bill for military servicemembers and their families in early August and the program failed to deliver almost immediately. Thousands of students did not receive their first checks in time to help make tuition payments and related college expenses. VA officials noted that most colleges and universities do not provide a student's enrollment information until after the add/drop period, usually towards the middle of the semester, delaying the disbursements.

In an effort to quickly address the backlog, the VA issued emergency payments -- but banks placed five-day holds on some of the checks, which were handwritten by VA employees.

Now the VA is acknowledging that the demand and related workload is too much to handle on its own.

“This contract will assist VA in delivering education benefits to our veterans as quickly as possible,” VA Undersecretary Patrick W. Dunne said in a statement. “Veterans are depending on VA to provide the benefits they earned through their service to our nation. We will do everything in our power to minimize delays for our veteran-students.”

No word on when the contract will be awarded or how much it will cost, but VA staffers will maintain final sign-off on claim decisions while the contractor processes claims and validates enrollment information.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | October 28, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Contracting  
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