Today I bring you good news, and somewhat discouraging news about a system without any rhyme or reason.
First, the good news: After I completed my Veterans Online Application to elect Chapter 33 Benefits (Post 9/11 GI Bill) on Jan. 5, I helped two Marines, who I knew were getting out this year, apply for Chapter 33 benefits. Yesterday they both let me know that they’ve received their ticket to college money courtesy of the VA — the Certificate of Eligibility. That one slip of paper is worth a minimum of $17,500, and worth much more when coupled with the Yellow Ribbon Program.
The bad news I mentioned earlier? I completed my VONAPP at least two whole weeks before they did. And I am still waiting for my letter in the mail from the VA.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am very happy I was able to help fellow Marines navigate a very complex system to obtain what is rightfully theirs. Not complex in the actual application process, but in just knowing where to go and where to start.
I called the VA’s hotline for GI BIll related questions, 1-888-442-4551 (888-GI-BILL-1). An automated prompt informed me that due to an overwhelming call volume, my expected to time would be more than 20 minutes. I set down my iPhone and put it on speaker for the next 29 minutes.
I was actually lucky — sometimes the VA gives you no other option but to set a phone appointment that could be as far out as one week or so. A rep finally came on the line, and after verifying my personal information, let me know that they do have my application, but have not processed it yet.
Luck. That was the answer I was given when I asked why some applicants who had applied after me received their GI Bill Certificate of Eligibility way before me. The VA rep told me that the system is so overwhelmed with GI Bill benefit applications and payment requests, that at this point they are pretty much blindly processing and responding to requests, in no chronological order. No “first-come, first-serve” basis.
So what now? Wait. Again. The “average” processing time is 6-8 weeks for the Certificate of Eligibility. Yesterday marked Week 6. I wouldn’t have sweated it if the flawed system didn’t smack me in the face. The VA recommended to call back in two weeks if I still had not received anything in the mail, and they would be able to take immediate action.
But today, there is nothing they can do. Luckily for me, I do not begin classes at DePaul University until Sept. 5, leaving me about six months to coordinate dialogue between the VA and DePaul.
Moral of the story? Complete your VONAPP early.