VBA and the Office of Information and Technology (OIT) successfully completed all necessary Information Technology (IT) updates on Oct. 31 to process education benefits in accordance with the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017.
The completion of IT updates means faster processing times, allowing VBA to deliver benefits more quickly to GI Bill® students. Since being signed into law on August 16, 2017, 31 education-related provisions have been implemented while making updates to IT systems. The provisions include restoration of entitlement, removal of the delimiting date to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, and full benefits to eligible Purple Heart recipients.
The implementation of the Colmery Act has been a joint undertaking across VBA and OIT, alongside partnerships with MITRE and systems integrator Accenture Federal Services.
“Working together as an integrated unit, the team delivered comprehensive software development, integration, testing, communications, and training to meet immediate needs,” said Undersecretary for Benefits Paul R. Lawrence, Ph.D. “We are doing all this while supporting VA in its push to modernize and be #FasterBetterTogether.”
A lynchpin in this approach, the team utilized Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to collaborate across multiple systems and VA offices, resulting in improved engagement, quality and efficiency. Despite transitioning to a virtual work environment in March 2020, the team adapted quickly and continued to meet the mission leveraging the SAFe approach.
These updates represent important benefits changes for GI Bill® students, as the Colmery Act expands opportunities under the Post-9/11 GI Bill®. Updates include:
- Removed the expiration of benefits for those who served on or after Jan.1, 2013.
- Changed the way Post-9/11 GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance is calculated.
- Expanded Yellow Ribbon Program eligibility to include Purple Heart recipients.
- Established the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship and improved the attendance verification process for scholarship recipients.
- Proration of the entitlement charge for licensing, certifications, and national exams.
To communicate these important changes and provide updates throughout the implementation process to GI Bill students, VA conducted extensive communication and outreach campaigns. This included email, toolkits and focus groups, as well as social media campaigns reaching more than 910,000 stakeholders, and a nine-state, 24-stop nationwide School Tour.
Through these efforts, VA met GI Bill® students, school administrators, and other stakeholders where they are, to not only communicate changes, but gather feedback on how to improve the GI Bill® experience.
The “go-live” of Colmery Act IT updates ultimately changes the way VBA interfaces with Veterans by delivering accurate and accessible benefits. As VA Chief Information Officer James Gfrerer said, “This milestone is an important step in our digital transformation journey, merging people, process, and technology to provide better customer service for our nation’s Veterans.”
Through improved processing times, rapid response to legislation, and fewer manual work arounds, this integrated solution allows VA to better serve Veterans in pursuit of their education and career goals.
Terry Warren is a management analyst for VBA’s Education Service.