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Keeping aircraft in the fight

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Keeping Aircraft in the Air

 

U.S. Army aviation faces a diverse threat environment, spanning broad categories of threats from ballistic munitions and guided missiles to directed energy and cyber weapons. It also spans generations of technology, ranging from constantly evolving sophisticated systems to widely proliferated legacy equipment. The modern threat environment presents both a technical challenge and a moving target to Army aviation. Historically, the science and technology (S&T) community has played an important role in developing advanced technologies to outpace the evolution of the threat. In an increasingly challenging threat environment, S&T is now even more critical.

The Army Tried To Bury A Critical Report On All Its Failings In The Iraq War

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Army Logo 001

 

An unclassified 1,300-page “unvarnished history” of the Iraq War is at the center of a heated debate among Army leaders and historians over who gets credit for what, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The infighting has reportedly stalled the publication of the study, which was commissioned in 2013 by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and remains unpublished. Sources told the Journal that Odierno urged a team of researchers consisting of some of the Army’s “brightest officers” to work expeditiously so that the history could publish while the lessons of the war “were most relevant.”

But it seems not everyone is convinced the general’s motives were pure.

  • A chief concern of those who took issue with the first draft of the history — which was completed in 2016 — is how the authors chose to portray Odierno.
  • According to the Journal, the study “hails President George W. Bush ‘surge’ of reinforcements and the switch to a counterinsurgency strategy overseen by Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Odierno.”
  • Odierno also apparently circumvented the standard process for “publishing the Army’s official conflicts,” after the Army’s Center of Military said the history would take five to 10 years.
  • Time seemed to be of the essence. “Some of the officials foresaw trouble if the study wasn’t published before Gen. Odierno retired, which he did in August 2015,” the Journal writes.
  • Furthermore, the study team was originally helmed by Army Col. Joel Rayburn, who served as an advisor to Petraeus in Iraq, according to the Journal.
  • The tangled web of loyalties reportedly prompted one Army historian to draft a memo proposing major revisions to the study and raise the question of whether it was intended to “validate the surge” and thus, as the Journal puts it, “burnish Gen. Odierno’s and Gen. Petraeus’s legacy.”
  • The 2007 surge coincided with a dramatic decline in the sectarian violence that had surged across Iraq the previous year, leading many to conclude that the extra troops and the counterinsurgency strategy Petraeus employed had succeeded in winning a seemingly un-winnable war. That narrative lost some of its luster in the ensuing years as the results proved temporary.
  • But the history commissioned by Odierno has plenty of champions while Rayburn “defended the study’s portrayal of the ‘surge’ as a success,” according to the Journal.
  • Meanwhile, retired Gen. Dan Allyn, who served as Army vice chief of staff when the history was completed in 2016, told the Journal that the brass sought to distance itself from the study in part because “senior leaders who were in position when these things happened, and they were concerned on how they were portrayed.”
  • Among the many mistakes identified in the study, according to the Journal, are a chronic shortage of boots on the ground, heavily lopsided contributions by the various coalition partners, the consolidating of troops on large forward operating bases from 2004 to the troop surge, and the failure to prevent Iran and Syria from bolstering their favored militant groups in Iraq.
  • Despite all the drama, however, the Army finally came around. Last week, the current Army chief of staff, Gen. Mark Milley, told the Journal that he had discarded plans to tweak the study and said it will be released in its original form — and with his stamp of approval — hopefully by Christmas.

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Army Veteran returns to annual TEE tournament in Iowa

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TEE tournament

 

Army Veteran Joni Mulvania (above, left) got a birdie on the first hole. No, really. Her tee shot hit a bird in mid-flight.

“The bird was not injured but my game never recovered.” That good-natured approach and her considerable athletic ability earned Mulvania one of the top awards at last year’s TEE tournament. She will be back this week. All birds are duly notified.

The TEE tournament is an annual golf rehabilitation program for Veterans who are legally blind, amputees, those who use wheelchairs and Veterans with other disabilities. It’s underway this week in Iowa City, Iowa.

The award Mulvania received was the 2017 Wayne Earle-Hampton Hill Award given to the Veteran who best exemplifies the spirit of the games. And there are numerous other awards in her golf bag. Her teams were the champions in 2008, 2009 and 2015.

The event provides legally blind Veterans and those with other disabilities an opportunity to participate in a therapeutic golfing event as well as other sports activities. The games enable Veterans to develop new skills and strengthen their self-esteem.

Mulvania, a retired Army Veteran who served three tours in South Korea lives in Rock Island, Illinois, “With my min pins Bonnie and Scooby Doo.” She has been diagnosed with PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma, seizure disorder and chronic pain, but never misses the TEE tournament because she enjoys encouraging other Veterans and building her endurance and strength through swimming, biking and golf.

“I love sports. My favorites are swimming, golf, and riding my trike. I also co-sponsor a women’s softball team. I enjoy cooking and barbecuing with friends and family. I also enjoy attending Veterans’ events and spending time with my best friend, my mother.”

TEE is an acronym for Training, Exposure and Experience. Participation is open to Veterans with visual impairments, amputations, traumatic brain injuries, psychological trauma, certain neurological conditions, spinal cord injuries and other life changing disabilities.

The TEE Tournament uses a therapeutic format to promote health, wellness, rehabilitation, fellowship and camaraderie among its participants. This is the 25th year of the tournament.

Mulvania encourages Veterans to contact their local VA. “There are a lot of amazing opportunities out there.”

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Anna Mae Hays, nurse who became U.S. military’s first female general, dies at 97

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Anna Mae Hays

 

Anna Mae Hays, an Army nurse who served in a mud-caked jungle hospital in World War II, guided the Army Nurse Corps through the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War and became the first female general in American military history, died Jan. 7 at a retirement home in Washington. She was 97.

Different Types of VA 100 Percent Disability Ratings

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When it comes to VA disability compensation, the goal for most Veterans is getting a 100 percent rating. The road to a 100 percent rating can be long and confusing. There are also different ways to get to a 100 percent rating. Below we will discuss the different types of 100 percent disability ratings.

Total disability based on 100 percent scheduler rating: This is when a Veteran’s single service-connected disability or alternatively, the Veteran’s combined service-connected disabilities total to 100 percent.

Total Disability/Individual Unemployability:

Better known as TDIU or IU is a type of rating that can be a bit more complicated than just a regular 100 percent scheduler rating. TDIU is considered once a Veteran has made a request to be paid at the 100 percent rate even though his or her disabilities do not combine to 100 percent. A Veteran may file a claim for this rating when he or she is unable to maintain substantially gainful employment because their service-connected disability keeps them from doing so. Substantially gainful employment for VA purposes is defined by the amount of earned from an employed position. The total amount of earnings from a job is considered gainful if they are above the poverty level. It is also defined as competitive employment where a non-disabled individual may ear a comparable income to the particular occupation in the same area.

In order to qualify for TDIU or IU, a Veteran must have one disability rated at 60 percent or one disability rated at 40 percent with enough additional disabilities that combine to a rating of 70 percent or above. It is important to keep in mind that just because the initial criteria for IU are met, does not mean that a 100 percent disability rating will be awarded. A Veteran will need to provide medical evidence that shows that they are unable to work in both a physical and a sedentary work environment.

Temporary 100 Percent Disability Rating:

This rating is given to Veterans who have been hospitalized for 21 days or longer or had surgery for a service-connected disability that requires at least a 30 day convalescence period. The VA will pay the Veteran at the 100 percent rate for the extent of the hospital stay or convalescence period.

Permanent and Total Rating:

The permanent and total rating is given when the VA recognizes that a Veteran’s service-connected disabilities have no probability of improvement. This means that the Veteran will remain at the 100 percent rating permanently without the need for future examinations.

Veteran often times make the mistake of requesting a permanent and total rating because they want the Chapter 35 educational benefits for their dependents. It is important to keep in mind that whenever a permanent and total rating is requested, all service-connected disabilities will be subject for re-evaluation. If improvement is noted during a re-examination, a reduction from the 100 percent rating may be proposed. It is important to note that most ratings are not considered permanent and are subject to future review.

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Permanent and Total Ratings

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Meaning of Permanent & Total

First, let’s break down each word in the phrase “permanent and total.” Permanent means that a Veteran has a disability which has no chance, or close to no chance, of the disability improving. The VA considers a disability to be permanent when the medical evidence shows that it is reasonably certain the severity of the Veteran’s condition will continue for the rest of the Veteran’s life. In determining this, the VA is allowed to take into account the Veteran’s age.

Total means a Veteran’s disability is rated at 100% disabling. Ratings are assigned to a disability based on the VA’s rating schedule. A rating is meant to represent how much the disability impairs a Veteran’s ability to function. In other words, the rating reflects the severity of the disability. If a disability is rated at 100%, then that indicates the Veteran is completely, or totally, disabled.

A Veteran might have a disability that is rated at 100% (total), but it might not be considered permanent. If a disability is not considered permanent, it is called a temporary disability. Vice versa, a Veteran could have a disability that the VA has determined is permanent, but it is not rated at 100% so it isn’t total. However, when a Veteran has a disability that is considered permanent AND total, there are certain benefits that come into play.

Permanent and Total Benefits

If a Veteran has a permanent and total rating they do not have to worry about getting scheduled for VA re-examinations. The VA has already made the determination that the medical evidence shows the disability is not going to improve when they found the disability to be permanent.

Other benefits that come with permanent and total ratings include:

  • CHAMPVA (The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs) – This is a comprehensive health care benefit program for spouses and children of Veterans. If a Veteran has a P&T rating their spouse and children can receive health care benefits under this program. Also, if a Veteran who passed away had a P&T rating at the time of death their surviving spouse and children can receive health care benefits under CHAMPVA (Note: the Veteran’s cause of death must have been from a service-connected disability).
  • Chapter 35 Dependents Educational Assistance Program – This provides education and training opportunities for eligible dependents (spouse, son, daughter, stepchildren, adopted children) of a Veteran who has a P&T rating. Unlike CHAMPVA, if a Veteran dies from a non-service connected disability, dependents can still receive Dependents Educational Assistance benefits as long as the Veteran had a P&T rating when they passed away. There is a lot of information regarding Dependents Educational Assistance benefits, so for more details on this program click here.
  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) – DIC benefits only become applicable when the Veteran has passed away. If a Veteran had a P&T rating for the 10 years immediately prior to their death, qualifying dependents will be eligible for DIC benefits. However, if the Veteran had a permanent and total rating for LESS THAN 10 years prior to their death, qualifying dependents are only eligible for DIC benefits if the Veteran’s cause of death was service-connected.
  • Certain state-level benefits – state-level benefits for Veteran’s that have a P&T rating range from college and employment resources to free hunting and fishing licenses. For example, in Florida, a Veteran with a P&T rating and an honorable discharge are exempt from paying property tax on their residence. For a comprehensive list of each state’s benefits click here.

Getting the VA Assign a Permanent & Total Rating

You can’t file a claim for a permanent and total rating, but you can submit a letter to the VA requesting they find you permanent and total. When submitting this request, you should also send medical evidence that shows your service-connected disability or disabilities are not going to improve in the future. The VA typically makes a determination of permanent and total on their own, but if you have not been found permanent and total it is worth letting the VA know why you should be.

If you’re unsure whether you’ve been found permanent and total, first look at your rating decision. Some rating decisions will include a permanent and total box that will be checked if the VA found you to be permanently and totally disabled. Another indicator on rating decisions is if there is language that says something like “eligibility to Dependents Educational Assistance Benefits (Chapter 35 DEA benefits) has been established.”

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Understanding Decisions from RAMP

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Background

RAMP (Rapid Appeals Modernization Program) is the VA’s pilot program for the new appeals system created by the VA Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. RAMP is an optional program, available to Veterans with claims that are currently on appeal. If a Veteran does not want to opt into the RAMP program, they do not have to submit anything to the VA; their appeals will continue to be processed in the current appeals system now referred to as the Legacy Appeals System.

Information on RAMP Rating Decisions

Now that the RAMP program has been in effect for several months, Veterans who opted in are receiving rating decisions. It is important to understand the information included in these decisions, and also what your options are if you are not happy with the decision.

The appearance of rating decisions hasn’t changed much with the RAMP program. However, the information that must be included in the rating decision has changed slightly. RAMP rating decisions must list all favorable findings that the VA identified when reviewing the case, including listing what evidence was considered as favorable. The VA must also identify the evidence they considered to be unfavorable. In the narrative part of the rating decision, the VA must explain how the favorable and unfavorable evidence was weighed in coming to their ultimate finding. In addition to listing the evidence, the VA also has to include a list of all regulations and laws that were applied in making their decision.

Forms Included in RAMP Rating Decisions

In addition to the explanation and the list of evidence and regulations, RAMP decisions will have two forms attached. These two forms are the RAMP Review Rights form and the RAMP Selection form.

The RAMP Review Rights form gives information about how to appeal the decision. The different ways to appeal a decision from RAMP are based on the different lanes that make up the RAMP program. The appeal options include:

  • Supplemental Claim: If you are unhappy with the rating decision and would like to submit new evidence, this is the appeal option to select. Once the new evidence (must be new and relevant) is submitted, a different rater will review the case.
  • Higher Level Review: This appeal option can only be selected if the decision being appealed was issued out of the supplemental claim lane, and you do not have any additional evidence to submit. (Note: if opting into RAMP, the only requirement is that no additional evidence can be submitted.) A higher-level VA employee will review the decision that is being appealed based on the evidence of record.
  • Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA): If you are unhappy with the rating decision and want to take your appeal straight to the BVA, use this appeal option (Note: the BVA will not begin deciding RAMP appeals until October 2018). If you choose to appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, you will have to select one of three options. These options are:
  • Direct Docket: Select this if you have no additional evidence to submit, and you do not want a hearing. The BVA will issue their decision based on the evidence of record.
  • Evidence Only Docket: Select this if you would like to submit additional evidence, but do not want a hearing. After submitting your appeal, you will have 90 days to submit additional evidence.
  • Hearing Docket: Select this if you would like to have a hearing with a Veterans Law Judge. You will also be able to submit additional evidence up to 90 days after submitting your appeal.

The second form that will be attached to a RAMP rating decision is the RAMP Selection form. After deciding which appeal option is best for you, fill out the RAMP Selection form. This form requires you to specify which issues you are appealing, and which appeal option you are choosing.

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Veterans Affairs Dept says it won't reimburse Vets who were underpaid GI Bill benefit payments: report

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VA Wont Pay

 

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) told congressional staffers on Wednesday that it will not repay Veterans who received smaller GI Bill benefit payments than they were owed, NBC News reported.

Committee aides told the outlet that the VA said it could not reimburse those Veterans without auditing past education claims, which, they said, would hold up future claims.

The report comes weeks after computer problems delayed GI Bill payments to hundreds of thousands of Veterans.

The issue first came under scrutiny after GI Bill payments were delayed due to a change in calculating housing allowances under the Forever GI Bill, which President Trump signed into law last year. According to NBC News, the department's computers were unable to process the change, quickly leading to an immense backlog of Veterans' claims.

The issues ultimately resulted in Robert Worley, executive director of the VA's education service, being reassigned earlier this month.

Because of the backlog, the department announced Wednesday that it would delay the bill’s housing allowance changes until next year, also pledging that Veterans who received incorrect GI Bill benefit payments would eventually be paid the correct amount.

Committee aides, however, said VA officials told Capitol Hill staffers on Wednesday that the department will not retroactively reimburse underpaid Veterans due to the housing miscalculations once the system is fixed next year, according to NBC News.

"They are essentially going to ignore the law and say that that change only goes forward from Dec. 2019," one aide told the outlet.

Pressed for comment by NBC, VA spokesman Curtis Cashour said that attempting to implement the new law would put “an enormous administrative burden for schools in which some 35,000 certifying officials would have to track retroactively and re-certify hundreds of thousands of enrollment documents.”

He added that the department would instead be paying housing allowances in accordance with the Department of Defense's previous Basic Housing Allowance rates until next year.

Cashour pushed back in a statement to The Hill on Thursday, claiming “the NBC report is misleading and gives the false impression that some Veterans on the GI Bill will not be made whole with respect to their housing payments."

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he continued. “Each and every Veteran on the post-9/11 GI Bill will be made 100 percent whole — retroactively if need be — for their housing benefits for this academic year based on the current uncapped DoD rates, and, beginning in spring 2020, we [will] be in a position to provide Veterans the new rates where applicable to meet the law known as the Forever GI Bill.”

Cashour further clarified to The Hill that “every single Veteran will be made whole for their housing benefits this year”

“For many students, this DoD BAH [Pentagon Basic Allowance for Housing] rate will be equal to or higher than their current payment,” Cashour continued. “If a student was overpaid due to the change in law or because of VBA’s challenges in implementing the law, the student will not be held liable for the debt.”

Cashour added that the VA in spring 2020 “will have solved its current information technology difficulties" to comply with the Forever GI Bill changes.

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VA Unable to Process GI Bill Payments for Veterans

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Used Blockchain

 

VA Falls Behind on GI Bill Payments

Today, you may not be aware, any US military Veteran with a non-dishonorable discharge is eligible for, at a minimum, a full scholarship to a school of their choosing. The modern GI Bill doesn’t just cover school payments, either — it also pays the Veteran a living allowance equivalent to a sergeant in the army’s housing benefits for their zip code. The program is a vital enhancement to previous GI Bills in its effect of ensuring that Veterans are able to fully participate in the economy when they leave active duty without having to worry about feeding themselves or paying rent while preparing to do so.

However, tens of thousands of such eligible Veterans have been hung out to dry for a quite some time now. It’s not because the money’s not there, although the program is not considered an essential service when budget showdowns occur (in fact, the whole Veterans Affairs department is not). It’s not because the VA does not want to pay them and — for once — even the banks are blameless. The problem, according to VA officials who were grilled last week in on Capitol Hill, is the technology stack being used.

Apparently, due to changes enacted in the Forever GI Bill, a slight enhancement of the Post-9/11 bill, payments have been stalled due to technical difficulties. Paul Lawrence, the head of the Veteran’s Benefits Administration (the part of the VA that handles payments), testified that he had previously made a mistake when he put a deadline on when the program would be repaired. At present, he has no clue when it will be fixed. Officials specifically said that 22 of the 34 changes made in the GI Bill last year required IT work, although they were not specific about what IT changes were necessary or why they were having an effect on payments being made. Lawrence said:

“We did not understand the certainty around it. That is why we are not giving you a date.”

For Everything Else, There’s Blockchain

Now here’s where the author gets a little upset.

First of all, never fix things that aren’t broken. In terms of software development, this means to keep the working version working until you’ve got the replacement tested and ready to deploy. This is to say, whatever they were using before should still be in use today, so that Veterans are paid. There was no mention as to whether or not schools are receiving their payments, but presumably, most colleges can miss a payment or two.

Secondly, why all the opacity around both the development and the payment mechanisms? The author remembers having to call in to check on the status of his GI Bill payments. No information would be available prior to the actual due date, and sometimes they actually did come a few days later. It’s a stressful experience for a Veteran because it always makes one think perhaps they’ve done something wrong in their paperwork, forgot to respond to something or other, or what have you.

Government Software Should be Open Source

It may seem extreme, but the author presents the following contention: all software developed or licensed by any democratic government should be open source. It belongs to the people, after all, either the license or the code itself. If there are engineering problems affecting the implementation of the new system, then an open-source approach would probably yield solutions faster.

Which brings us to the third point: why not blockchain this, as it were? Payments are the heart of the blockchain. Privacy and some degree of opacity are important when dealing with people’s private information, such as benefits they’re receiving from the government, but some form of permissioned blockchain would probably have been more ideal than building a “new” antiquated system that will end up being replaced in 5-20 years anyway.

No, the author’s not advocating that people receive their benefits in cryptocurrencies. Not necessarily. What he’s advocating is that a blockchain — whichever might be best suited — be used to track and make payments. Companies like Ripple have deep connections to the bank industry and could facilitate instant payments some way or another. Enough of the data could be public that a Veteran could simply enter some pre-determined key and see whether or not their benefits had been sent and when they would be expected to be sent. Payments could be tracked through the entirety of the process. Such a move would go a long way to restoring trust in the people running the system.

What do you think, dear reader? Is this an aspect of the government that blockchain could help with? What blockchain technology stack do you think has the most chance of being used by the government for such things as benefits payments and tracking? Ripple? Ethereum? Bitcoin? NEO? Let’s hear your views in the comments!

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Veterans Affairs unexpectedly canceled overtime work to address GI Bill claim backlog

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GI Bill Benefits 003

 

The VA's regional offices reopened on Monday, but the canceled work came less than two days after a House committee demanded answers on delayed payments to Veterans.

Less than two days after a House committee demanded answers on why computer problems were delaying Veterans' GI Bill payments, the Veterans Benefits Administration unexpectedly canceled its weekend work at three regional processing centers at the last minute on Saturday morning.

A VA spokesman said a system update stymied the agency's attempts to work on its backlog of benefit claims, putting a halt to the mandatory overtime ordered to address the problem. NBC News previously reported that computer problems have caused GI Bill benefit payments that cover education and housing to be delayed or made incorrectly, forcing some Veterans to face dire financial circumstances.

In response to the delays, the Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA) Education Service placed the regional processing centers on mandatory overtime, including weekend work, and hired 202 additional workers.

At Thursday's hearing before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, VA officials were unwilling to offer a concrete date — or even an estimate — for when the problem might be fully resolved, but said they would continue with mandatory overtime to address the issue.

“The plan going forward is to continue our overtime work, continue to have the improved processing provided by 200 additional processors,” Gen. Robert Worley, the director of VBA’s education service, testified on Thursday. “We’re focusing, as I said, on the old work first. We’re handling hardships as they come in. And that’s the ongoing effort that we’ve gone through since the peak of this fall, which was 207,000 claims on Sept. 4.”

The VA confirmed that it alerted employees at 9 a.m. ET on Saturday that all overtime work on education claims would be canceled at the three regional offices, but it did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the number of workers who were told to stay home.

Stars and Stripes reported last week that overtime has cost about $300,000 every week since the beginning of August, totaling about $4.5 million.

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee, which held Thursday's hearing, began to investigate the matter on Saturday after they found out about the canceled work, a committee aide told NBC News.

The committee believed it was "an internal communication issue" at the federal agency, the aide said, as VA officials told them the system was not "down." However, the payment system became "unavailable" when they input new compensation and pension rates that are to take effect Dec. 1.

"Education staff were told that this wouldn’t impact processing of education claims but they were wrong," the committee aide said. "As such, they canceled overtime this past weekend.”

Curt Cashour, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that full operations at the regional offices resumed Monday morning and that the canceled overtime would "have little effect on VA's overall education claims processing, as the department's education claims inventory is trending downward."

Cashour denied that thousands of Veterans had waited months for payment or been made homeless by the delayed payments.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, however, sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Friday, asking him to address the multiple reports that the delayed payments have put student Veterans in difficult financial circumstances.

The chairman also asked how much money VA had spent to address its computer system, the number of employees working on it, the status of the IT upgrades, the amount of time it will take VA to correct its payments and send them to Veterans, how much is owed to student Veterans and how VA is communicating with students and schools about the delays.

“These problems have forced our Veterans to go without money to pay for basic necessities like food and rent, with some facing potential eviction or the prospect of getting kicked out of school,” Enzi said in a statement. “They deserve better.”

The VA said as of Saturday that it had approximately 51,000 pending post-9/11 GI Bill claims. According to Cashour, each education claim is processed in 24.3 days for original claims and 17.3 days for supplemental claims.

"VA’s education claims inventory includes claims that are as new as one day old, and not all involve payments, such as initial applications or changes of programs," Cashour said in an email to NBC News on Saturday. "Approximately 1-percent or fewer of VA’s education claims are more than 60 days old. We continue to monitor closely and prioritize these claims."

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