Hundreds of veterans enrolled in a technology-focused job training program received thousands in extra housing stipends due to a quirk in federal law, according to a report from a Veterans Affairs watchdog.
The money involved in the issue totals only about $1.1 million, a small fraction of the $8-billion-plus paid out by the department in veterans education benefits annually.
But officials from the VA Inspector General’s office said the practice of provisioning extra housing payouts creates a potentially problematic precedent for the department, since most other regulations prevent such double-dipping for federal benefits.
“Under other VA educational programs, individuals are required to select one program from which to receive educational assistance at a time,” the inspector General’s report stated, adding that the legislative language causing the problems “is inconsistent with other VA educational benefits programs that prohibit concurrent payments of educational benefits.”
The concerns are centered on the Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) program, launched in 2019. It covers tuition costs and provides a monthly housing stipend to veterans who qualify, allowing them to study subjects like software development, data science, network security and web development.
More than 12,000 veterans have taken part in the program, and lawmakers have steadily increased funding for the program from its initial $15 million budget to $45 million today. The goal was to give eligible veterans a chance to rapidly earn degrees — and jobs — in high-demand fields.
However, because of requirements that veterans have some GI Bill benefits remaining to be eligible, that allowed more than 200 veterans to receive two separate housing stipends for their studies: one from the VET TEC program and one from the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
For some, that meant up to $10,000 extra to cover housing costs that were already paid for through other veterans benefits.
In response to the report, VA officials noted the issue stems from how the legislation was written and not regulatory decisions by department leaders. Officials made some attempts to end the duplicative payouts but relented out of concerns that it could open the department to legal action.
Officials have no plans to try and recoup the money, noting that no laws appear to have been violated by the doubled stipend payments.
The VET TEC program is scheduled to sunset in April 2024. The inspector general’s report recommended that lawmakers fix the problem if they opt to renew the program, an idea that several lawmakers have backed in recent months.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.