Vets Complain: Veterans Administration Sitting On Paychecks

Ashley Metcalf Morgan Sforzini VA work study

By Dan Elliott

Exasperated veterans who work part-time for the Veterans Administration while attending college say their VA paychecks are sometimes weeks late, leaving them in trouble with bill collectors or having to borrow money to avoid eviction.

The two-week VA paycheck is typically about $360, and can be vital to veterans raising families and juggling expenses.

"It's absolutely crucial," said Neal Boyd, an Army veteran who has two children, attends Danville Area Community College in Illinois and works for the VA in the school's career services office to help other veterans.

The VA work-study program lets them work an average of up to 25 hours a week on the VA payroll if they are full-time or three-quarter-time college students.

The program is separate from other GI Bill benefits such as tuition and textbook assistance and a housing allowance that varies by location. But veterans said those benefits don't cover all their expenses, and they need a job to make ends meet.

The veterans were paid a total of $25.7 million in fiscal year 2011 - the most recent year for which statistics were available. They are paid the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, or their state's minimum wage, whichever is higher.

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The number of veterans in the program depends on the needs of their schools, and veterans qualify based on their financial need and other factors, the VA said. Veterans who want to join the program submit a contract to the VA for approval.

More than 10,000 veterans are in the VA work-study program nationwide, but it's difficult to pin down how widespread the paycheck delays are.

The VA said on average, the checks are issued less than a week after time cards are received by the VA, but acknowledged they have been delayed at a processing center in St. Louis, one of four nationwide, because of a heavy workload and the loss of three workers.

In a statement, the department said it hired more workers in St. Louis last month and now has six assigned to process work-study paper work. The St. Louis office cut the processing time for paychecks to five days, down from an average as high as 12 days in some months, the statement said.

The St. Louis office handles work-study time cards and contracts from 19 states, mostly in the Midwest.

The VA said it is investigating some individual cases and looking for other changes to speed up the checks. It said it wants to ensure that all veterans get their benefits on time.

Two Colorado veterans who queried VA work-study students in several states say they found that 48 percent said it usually takes two to four weeks to get their checks. Nearly 13 percent said more than a month.

The two veterans, Ashley Metcalf and Morgan Sforzini, pictured above, said they were having problems getting paid and wondered whether other veterans were.

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A total of 88 VA work-study students from 16 states answered their written questions. More than half were in states that submitted their time cards to the St. Louis office.

Six veterans interviewed by The Associated Press reported delays of up to two months in getting a paycheck or getting approval for the contract allowing them to hold a work-study job. They also complained of long waits on hold when calling about the checks and contracts.

Veterans at the University of Colorado, Denver, keep score to see "who cannot get paid the longest," said Metcalf, an Air Force veteran who has a work-study job. The record is 90 days.
The veterans find various work-arounds when their checks are late, from getting emergency loans to temporarily getting on their college's payroll.

Loki Jones, an Army Special Forces veteran who served in Iraq, said he had to borrow money to pay his rent last spring because his work-study check was about three months late.

Jones, a student at the University of Colorado, Denver, said his contract was lost and then his time card was held up at least twice, once because he failed to initial parts of it.

"If I hadn't gotten that emergency loan, if that hadn't gone through, I would have gotten kicked out of my apartment for sure," he said.

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Air Force veteran Jon Bohlander, who attends Johnson County Community College in Kansas, said he submitted a contract extension in late May or early June for a job during the college's summer session. The approved extension came back on July 27, a day before the session ended.

VA rules allowed him to put in his hours anyway because he was seeking an extension on an existing contract, not a new one, said Kena Zumalt, work-study supervisor for the college. He was paid two weeks after his contract extension was approved.

Bohlander, a single parent of three, has asked Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., for help getting the VA to pay. After Yoder's office made inquiries, the turnaround improved for two or three weeks, but then it "just falls back into the routine again," he said.

Cheyne Worley, who works in Yoder's Overland Park, Kan., office, said seven or eight veterans in the program have told him about pay delays in the past year. The VA should be better prepared to deal with the wave of 1.4 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, he said.

"It shouldn't fall on the backs of the student veterans. They've done their duty," he said.
The work-study jobs usually involve helping other veterans sign up for benefits or processing paperwork at colleges or VA offices. Others work at VA hospitals or cemeteries.

The veterans say they hang on to the jobs despite the problems because their days and hours are flexible and they prize the loyalty and friendship of their co-workers and bosses. They also feel an obligation to help other veterans navigate through college life, a radically different world from the military.

"It's my duty to do that," Metcalf said. "And I take that on, even though I'm not getting paid in a timely manner."

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I have said for years that the Va should be privatized.
They are lazy and incompetent If they screw up a claim and they are called on it they are vindictive and cruel.
Thats my 45 year experience with them.

October 31 2012 at 3:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I work at a VA Hospital, what a joke! Funny, they can pay the non-vet employee OT for "creative OT" and they don't know jack sh*t about the military!

October 31 2012 at 12:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How about we get Donald Trump to run the VA like a money making business. he would get qualified people to do the job and would see that the job got done. There is NO excuse for our veterns being treated like this. I have found that conplaining to your congressman, either party, get the job done.

October 30 2012 at 8:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've found the VA to be selective in treating Vets, and pencil you negatively in your records if you disagree with what they state. I've found that the Phoenix VA, from the Directors Assistant on down seem to be waiting for 5pm and for payday to come and do little to help the Vet. Ironically, the Vets working at the VA are the absolute best! They know and feel you pain, while the civilians have no clue why we get upset with their ignorance.

I submitted a claim for my disability and was told it would be 9 months before they would be reviewing this, which is an OK timeline. But now 26 months later and I have yet to have a review is upsetting only because Patients Advocate Office could care less, plu not return calls!

PHOENIX IS THE WORST AND NOT VET FREINDLY! Something needs to be done at this VA...

October 30 2012 at 8:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What else is new. The VA screws vets every day. The people working for the VA are the most lazy, useless and rude SOB's in this country.C ongress is responsible for this mess. I wish there was a law that every member of congress must have served in the REGULAR military service. I said REGULAR not the damn national guard where the rich kids can hide.

October 30 2012 at 4:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, glad to see it's not just me. I'm a service member and my son is using my Post 9/11 GI Bill for his education and I am still waiting to receive the monthly and book allowance from the VA. The school submitted it on 5 Sep to the VA. They told me they are no longer allowed to tell us how long it will take to process payments as they are so backlogged. Previously, they were telling people it would take 4-6 weeks now you just have to wait. I feel sorry for the people that depend on this money to pay their rent and other bills.

October 30 2012 at 12:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Totally unacceptable. I'll bet a Dollar to a Doughnut that Congressional Paychecks aren't late......

October 30 2012 at 12:09 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This president also allows mortgage lenders to add minimum credit scores to VA backed mortgages when the VA itself does not have a minimum credit score requirement. These are the same lenders that were willing to take bailout money from the same government that bailed them out just so they could go back to giving their CEO's outrageous pay checks. How would you like to be a veteran returning from Iraq with not so good credit after fighting for your country only to be told you can't buy a home with your VA eligibility because your credit score is to low. Nice way for grateful "bankers" to treat veterans.

October 29 2012 at 11:03 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

We have a president who hates the military .He left our people behind in Libya this is the new policy of our president .God bless all our troops fro, this evil man in the White House

October 29 2012 at 9:59 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hdevo's comment

you are pretty prathetic, with your spin on the President, he haves done more for the V.A. THAN Republicans have ever done and to spin it like you did makes you prathetic, its about time Republicans start acting like Americans...and stop playing this stupit Game......

October 29 2012 at 10:58 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I didn't enter the Army with the view on benefits out side of meals , shelter clothing there was also a very small paycheck , there was a time in my life that the military made sense I got over it , what the VA does is make you prove and prove and prove some more that you're entitled to anything the process is at a snails pace during this time the VA hope you drop dead or get tired of it and move on .

October 29 2012 at 8:22 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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