School aid for service delayed

A 2004 provision to give some veterans help with tuition has yet to pay out.

Aidan M. Anderson

An enhanced educational benefit for National Guard and Reserve service members who were activated after Sept. 11, 2001, appears to be slow in coming.

The Reserve Educational Assistance Program Chapter 1607 was included in HR 4200 and signed into law in October 2004, but has yet to pay out for those eligible to receive it more than one year later.

The REAP Chapter 1607 benefit is similar to the Chapter 1606 Montgomery GI Bill benefit and offers National Guard or Reserve members deployed after Sept. 11, 2001, larger educational funds depending on the length of the service member’s activation.

Payments under the new benefit range from $100 to $500 per month more than the full-time attendance rate of the 1606 plan, which is $297 per month.

First-year conservation student Mike Kahring returned from an 18-month deployment with the 1256th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), based in St. Paul, which provided support to training operations at Fort Hood, Texas, he said. Kahring, an Army specialist, refueled Blackhawk helicopters.

Kahring receives his Chapter 1606 GI Bill benefit as well as federal tuition assistance and is getting by on his savings, but said the additional money would be helpful.

“If I didn’t have (the savings), I would really want the 1607 right now,” he said.

Past experiences with Veterans Affairs educational benefits took some time and Kahring didn’t expect the new benefit would come through right away.

“I didn’t plan on getting it for a while,” he said. “I didn’t assume they were going to pay it out.”

The hold on payout hinges on a couple of issues, said Bill Susling, assistant director of education services at the VA’s central office in Washington, D.C.

A legal agreement among the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs must first be completed, he said.

This memorandum of understanding is in the works and expected to be signed in early December, Susling said.

“That requires some work and that is not yet signed,” he said.

Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs is building a payment database that allows the department to administer the benefit, he said. The system depends on data collected from the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security and is being worked on this week.

If the three departments complete the memorandum of understanding, and get the eligibility data to the VA, payments could begin as early as mid-December, Susling said.

“Right now we’re working on making sure we can collect the data from Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security so they can tell us who’s eligible for the benefit,” he said. “That test is under way right now, this week.”

The VA had 8,149 claims filed for the 1607 benefit as of Nov. 4, so it would take a few weeks before service members start to see the payments, Susling said.

Service members who are eligible but waiting for the benefit will receive a lump sum retroactive payment, and continued monthly benefits while they are enrolled.

Service members who have already completed school will receive a retroactive payment for the time they were eligible.

While the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and VA work to implement the final stages of the plan, those eligible should file to receive Chapter 1606 benefits, said Leslie Dosse, the University’s certifying official. Applicants should note they wish to receive Chapter 1607 benefits when they become available on their paperwork, she said.

The University’s Veterans Certification Office reports the request and holds the paperwork in a suspense file until the Department of Veterans Affairs requests it, Dosse said.

The availability of educational benefits, including the REAP Chapter 1607, affected Kahr’s decision to return to school “big time,” he said.

“It’s nice have the benefits,” he said.

Service members with questions about the benefit can visit www.gibill.va.gov.