VA Student Work-Study Program Could Mean Long Delays in Paycheck Processing; Our Veterans Deserve Better
The Department of Veterans Affairs makes a practice of hiring veterans to help other vets as they transition out of the military and into college. Unfortunately, they also make a practice out of not paying them on time.
NBC News obtained an internal survey of VA employees hired under the “work-study” program.
From the NBC News article:
“Student veterans hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to help fellow ex-service members transition into college have routinely waited four to six weeks — and, in one case, four months — for unpaid wages, prompting eviction worries and mounting debt…”
The work-study program is a feature of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Qualifying veterans going to school themselves can get paid to assist transitioning veterans and helping them navigate the VA system.
Participants earn the minimum wage in their jurisdictions, and log hours serving in a variety of capacities:
- Assisting with processing VA paperwork at schools or at Veterans Administration offices
- Veteran outreach services performed under VA supervision or under the auspices of a State approving agency
- Providing services at VA hospitals and clinics
- Serving at DoD facilities assisting with education benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR), or the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) (though only participants receiving these benefits can get paid for this work under the program
- Administrative assistance at the National Cemetery Association
Participating veterans can get paid up to 50 hours in advance, or up to 40 percent of the number of hours in their work-study agreement with their school, whichever is less. The amount of hours worked is limited to an average of 25 per week during your enrollment period. But veterans can work between enrollment periods, bunch the hours however they want, consistent with the work available.
Once the first advance period is up, the VA promises to pay participants every time they complete 50 hours of service in the program.
But the VA seems to be having trouble delivering on its promise. More from the NBC article:
“Metcalf’s survey found VA work-study employees at five campuses who reported waiting one month to two months for payments — and a student in North Dakota who was not compensated for four months. (Among the 18 schools represented in the survey were Texas A&M, Florida State and the University of Kentucky). Survey participants also revealed that a number of student veterans have quit their work-study jobs due to the chronic payment delays, hamstringing veteran-services departments at some campuses.”
Veterans are complaining that it takes weeks or months before they are paid – and that the VA is not giving them any answers in the meantime about why their paychecks are hung up. Typically, veterans will get a voicemail message saying that VA workers are “busy processing time cards.” Calls are frequently not returned.
Even the reporter looking into the story didn’t get anyone from the VA on the phone. Instead – he got an email from a VA spokesperson – blaming veterans!
“A voicemail left Monday by NBC News with the VA media relations office prompted an emailed response Wednesday from a VA spokesperson: ‘VA will review any issues with the work-study to ensure payments are delivered in a timely manner. To allow more timely payments to work-study students, our regional processing offices recommend that employers submit time records to the work-study coordinator once 50 work hours have been accrued. In some cases, time records are submitted after a student has accrued 100 or more hours.'”
To be eligible for the program, you must be enrolled in a college degree, professional or vocational training program. You must be enrolled at least “three-quarter” time.
Priority goes to applicants with a VA disability rating of 30 percent or more, or those with a service-related disability.
Interested veterans eligible for the 9/11 GI Bill can apply for the program with the VA using this form.
I regret I cannot strongly recommend this program for the vast majority of veterans – even if the VA were better at paying on time. The vast majority of veterans transitioning back into the civilian sector, or seeking to go to school, have better options to earn money, gain valuable contacts , and obtain private sector experience.
Don’t rely on the VA for your tuition and your income, if you can help it. If you have your tuition benefits coming from one source, and your income from another, a glitch won’t cause a meltdown in everything at once. Work somewhere else. Don’t settle for minimum wage. You are honorably discharged veterans. Many of you have combat experience, and most have at least some marketable skill somewhere. If nothing else, you should have a maturity level, experience level and an ability to handle stress that is much greater than the typical minimum wage worker in your city. Yes, jobs are tight. Keep looking. There’s nothing wrong with picking up a few hours while you are looking — but have a contingency plan in the event your pay check is delayed. Not every town has a lot of private sector jobs available. And the VA Work Study Program has the advantage of flexible hours. Keep looking.
Most internships are better. Your work in this particular work-study program is unlikely to help you much in your civilian career. If you’re going to work for minimum wage, it’s much better to get in the door at an internship, apprenticeship, or entry-level position in your chosen field or industry. Unless you want to be a career VA employee and can work with VA supervisors in a position to hire you once you are finished with school, move on. Build a Rolodex of contacts elsewhere.
Join the Reserves or Guard. If you haven’t signed on with a Reserve or National Guard unit, consider it. One weekend a month of drill pay equals about 4 days of active duty base pay. This may work out to a big chunk of what you would earn in the Work-Study Program anyway. Your unit may have other work you can do during the week, on RMP or Active Duty Special Work status, State Active Duty for Air or Army National Guard members. Plus, many states offer free tuition to National Guard members and other valuable benefits.
Have you had problems getting paid in the VA Work-Study Program? What have you done to find a job after leaving the service. Leave your advice in the comments below.