An argument could be made that members of “the greatest generation” – Americans who grew up during the Depression of the 1930s – actually won two wars for their country. The first was militarily, during World War II. The second was economically, after they came home and secured their nation’s position in world affairs while raising their “baby boomers.”

At the foundation of that success was the GI Bill, originally the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, that provided college or vocational education and other benefits and loans for returning World War II veterans. Since the original act, the term has come to include other veteran benefit programs created to assist veterans of subsequent wars as well as peacetime service.

The new GI Bill signed into law last year was designed to help pay the higher education costs for men and women who have put their lives on the line as members of the U.S. military in the post-9/11 era. The law took effect on Aug. 1.

However, The New York Times, quoting veterans’ groups and college officials, reported Thursday that the legislation hasn’t helped thousands of veterans who have enrolled in colleges for the fall semester. Instead, the veterans have had to find other funding for tuition, housing and books because the Veterans Affairs Department hasn’t been distributing benefit checks fast enough.

Some colleges have allowed veterans to enroll in classes without making tuition payments, Congress should immediately step in to help the VA figure out how to process benefits at a swifter pace.

The VA’s education service office says that the average processing time for claims is 35 days, but acknowledges that the span has increased with the crush of applications received when the fall semester began. More than 900 employees are assigned to the task, with many working overtime. Retired claims processors have been brought back to work to help out.

South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, chair of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee and wife of former Texas Congressman Max Sandlin, was quoted last summer as saying that Congress has “an ongoing responsibility to ensure timely and effective implementation” of the GI Bill. Our veterans deserve to see the government take whatever steps are needed to make that happen.

Brownwood Bulletin