Hi, I’m Phil McCausland, a reporter for NBC News, where I focus on the rural-urban divide. I’ll be taking questions at 1:30 p.m. ET on my reporting about how technology glitches at the Department of Veterans Affairs have prevented veterans from receiving benefits for months. You can read about how it’s affected vets’ lives and the Trump administration’s role in it all here: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/veterans-haven-t-receive-gi-bill-benefits-months-due-ongoing-n934696.

Over the past two years at NBC News, I've covered everything from President Trump's inauguration and the resulting protests to hurricanes and mass shootings. I've reported on the flagging dairy industry and struggling farmers, crumbling infrastructure in Mississippi that has forced the state to close thousands of bridges, and the mental health crisis in Montana.

Comments: 175 • Responses: 10  • Date: 

nrrdeegrrl101 karma

If you've come across this in your research, what kind of machines is the relevant buggy VA software running on? How old are they, and how old is the software?

I'm a help desk geek, so I'm curious - do you know who's supporting, or failing to support, these systems? In-house VA employees or outside contractors or is the work outsourced overseas or?

Focusing on the rural-urban divide sounds fascinating. What disparities stand out as significant but often overlooked? What general insights into rural / urban issues can you share with us?

nbcnews119 karma

Hey, so you have a couple questions here. I'll take them one by one.
1. I've gotten a few different reports on the specs of the software system that is buggy, but I'm going to wait to share that until I'm certain. I'll just say that it appears to be quite outdated.

  1. From what I can tell, this isn't a manpower problem — unless we're talking about leadership and oversight. Remember that the Office of Information Technology at VA hasn't had a consistent leader since LaVerne Council left during the Trump transition. They've had three acting leaders since. VA has hired 202 temporary workers to address the backlog, but from what I've been told, this has only made the matter worse because more people are drawing on the internal system at once. But to be clear, employees at VA are working really hard internally to fix the issue and deal with the backlog.

  2. A big one that I see is the lack of services that people in rural America have access to. Basic health care is a lot more difficult to deal with when the closest hospital is 90+ miles away. It's also interesting that a lot of people I talk to can't identify Robert Mueller or Paul Manafort, but that's because they're trying to keep their family farm operating or get their kid to the mental health center two hours away.

Cstix38 karma

I've been out of the service for 10 years, and have yet to use my GI Bill. I have friends and fellow vets that have nightmare stories about not just the hassle of getting it set up, but being on the hook for payments and money due to payments not being made on time (payments from the government to the schools). I'm not going to say its the sole reason i have not use this benefit I've earned, but its a big enough reason in itself.

Have you seen any instances of these issue's effecting vets financially?

nbcnews51 karma

Hey, so I definitely have. I wrote about some of the impact on one vet in the story, but about a month ago I did a greater depth story about the effects on vets. Some were down to less than a dollar in their bank accounts, maxed out their credit cards, took out loans, or borrowed money from family. People I talked to have lost their apartments, gone hungry because of this and schools have threatened to kick them out because they hadn't received the vet's tuition payment.

Obviously, it's a hugely generous benefit, and it's definitely worth the trouble to sign up for. These problems just have to be fixed.

nbcnews15 karma

Vincent_Mateus28 karma

Even just the government shut downs in the past are terrible. I collapsed into debt, and ended up living in my car for a year while attending college full time because of it. Completely unacceptable and it’s sad others go through similar or worse.

Does this G.I. Bill issue prevent veterans from enrolling or continuing in classes, and if so, will there be compensation for those that need this income to pay bills/rent/ etc when it’s fixed? If not there could be a large number of displaced or indebted veterans at no fault of their own.

nbcnews25 karma

So at this point, that remains unclear. Vets I've spoken to have definitely incurred a fair amount of debt because these payments were missed. Credit card interest, bank fees, and interest on loans all start to add up and put people further behind the curve.
The senate currently has a law under review after it was passed by the house that wouldn't allow schools to kick out vets who hadn't made their tuition payments because of a VA issue. So far that bill hasn't passed yet though.

hero21b21 karma

Once this issue is made manageable or fixed entirely, do vets get access to a benefits backlog? I'm doubtful but curious.

nbcnews23 karma

The VA is committed to paying all the backlog, and they are definitely going to make sure that vets all receive their checks. In some instances vets were paid more than they should have been because of the snafus around the housing calculation. In those instances, the VA is expected to forgive the difference.

nbcnews19 karma

Vets are definitely going to get all their benefits. VA is working hard to ensure that's true. Some vets were also paid more than they were supposed to, and the VA is expected to forgive the difference.

ComadorFluffyPaws11 karma

Are they actively looking for IT workers to staff full time or are they going to contract this out and once they are over this hump, let the systems go back to being trash?

nbcnews15 karma

Right now they've hired 202 workers to deal with the backlog. Unclear if they're adding staff to deal with IT issues internally. I would doubt it, since they already have an office that should be working on these types of problems.

CaptainBowdrill6 karma

Have you ever tried an MRE, and if so favourite menu?

nbcnews17 karma

I have, but it's been a long time. I grew up an Army brat, and my Boy Scout troop was located on an Army barracks. When we went camping, some kids' parents sent them with a pack of MREs. I remember there being a fair amount of fights for the chili mac.

MC_chrome3 karma

Has there been any legal recourse offered to veterans who have been affected by this issue? If not, is there anything being setup to challenge the government over their neglect of the VA in general?

nbcnews6 karma

I haven't heard of anything yet for either question. If anyone does, please let me know.

ScrapeyElbows-6 karma

How much blame can we pin on Shinseki and his error era?

nbcnews4 karma

This particular problem really doesn't apply to Shinseki, as most of these issues stem from the changes to the law after the Forever GI Bill was signed into law in 2017. As I'm sure you know, he departed the VA in 2014.