Editorial: Congressmen seek fix for GI bill housing subsidies

Published Dec 6, 2012 at 04:00AM

Some veterans attending the Oregon Institute of Technology in Wilsonville on the GI Bill are paying for housing in that expensive urban area while being reimbursed as if they were living in rural Klamath Falls, more than 250 miles away.

That means they’re being shorted about $7,000 per year, according to a complaint from several members of Oregon’s congressional delegation.

The problem is the Veterans Administration’s decision to base housing reimbursements on where the college’s administrative offices are, not where the students attend classes and live.

A letter asking for resolution of the problem was sent to the VA by Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden.

The letter says that previously, the VA suggested solving the problem by having the college establish duplicate administrative centers at each location where students attend classes. The congressional letter said OIT estimates the cost for just one such center in Wilsonville at close to $1 million per year on top of $250,000 in startup costs. That’s $1.25 million to enable the VA to pay more for housing allowances without changing its procedures. We know the VA is a big operation and change doesn’t come easily. But even so, this seems extreme.

In response to The Bulletin’s request for comment, the VA emailed: “The Department received the letter on Dec. 4 and will provide a formal response to the members of Congress. We appreciate Congress’ ongoing support of the Post-9/11 GI Bill program.”

The $7,000 estimate is based on the Department of Defense Basic Allowance for Housing. While the OIT case involves paying too small a housing allowance, the congressmen point out that there are likely other cases where the VA is paying too much rather than too little. That would occur if the satellite campus were in a lower-cost area than the administrative center.

The lawmakers urge the VA to ensure students get the correct housing subsidy based on where they are studying and living. Good idea.