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Get to bottom of GI Bill mix-ups that have wrongly denied benefits to children of veterans

A leaked report shows that GI Bill snafus have been a problem since 2009. That report should be made public, even if the full details are incomplete.

Nicholas Griffo’s complaint led to a Department of Defense investigation that found widespread problems with the way the government handles GI Bill claims. 
Nicholas D. Griffo’s complaint led to a Department of Defense investigation that found widespread problems with the way the government handles GI Bill claims. 
Joed Viera / For the Sun-Times

We’re still wondering why it took a fed-up whistleblower, leaking a secret report to a journalist, to find out bureaucratic screw-ups involving GI Bill benefits have been going on for years.

Because of those screw-ups — no one knows how many — the children of eligible veterans have been wrongly denied college benefits. The Sun-Times’ Stephanie Zimmermann has been reporting on these GI Bill snafus since 2019 — most recently on Sunday — and has uncovered case after case of bad record-keeping and miscalculated service time among veterans.

Correct calculations are crucial. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs uses them to determine eligibility under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

We still don’t know how many families have been affected by the snafus. That secret report from the Department of Defense doesn’t say — but it acknowledges the mess has been going on since 2009.

We just hope the whistleblower’s estimate of “hundreds of thousands” of affected veterans is much too high.

No family should be caught up in the same mess as former DePaul University student Paige Dotson, whose story Zimmermann told in 2019.

Paige’s father, Russell Dotson, served 22 years in the Navy, on active duty and as a reserve. He was deployed overseas six times. He saved two lives in Afghanistan. He eventually agreed to re-enlist for four more years, so he could transfer his GI Bill benefits to his two children.

But the government made a math mistake, miscalculated his service time and eventually stopped paying the college bills. Paige Dotson began getting collection notices from the government for back tuition amounting to $20,000.

Under pressure from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and others in Congress, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly eventually canceled Dotson’s debt.

Meanwhile, dozens of families, Zimmermann soon found out after the Dotsons’ story was told, were in similar straits. Nicholas D. Griffo, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs whistleblower and a longtime claims investigator, complained about the snafus he knew were occurring. That sparked the DOD investigation and report, which Griffo recently gave to Zimmermann.

In a letter from DOD’s human resources director, included in that report is this telling admission: The DOD has known about the problems with gaps in calculating veterans’ service time since 2009.

In fact, veterans often don’t know there are problems with their service records. “They didn’t know they’re being screwed,” as Griffo, whom the VA is now seeking to fire, told Zimmermann.

Griffo says the DOD promised to make the report public. It’s time for the DOD to follow through. A public release of all the available details, however incomplete, is a first step to fixing the problem.

In a letter to the secretaries of the Army and Air Force, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., urges a “compassionate resolution,” citing the Navy’s handling of the Dotson case.

Compassion is certainly in order. So is speed, in making matters right for the men and women who risked their lives to serve our country.

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