WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced legislation to prevent the VA from charging veterans for its own accounting mistakes.
The VA annually sends as many as 200,000 overpayment notices totaling thousands of dollars to veterans and their families, sending them into crippling debt and withholding future benefits payments until the debt is paid. These overpayments are often a result of the VA’s own accounting errors, but the VA puts veterans and their families on the hook for repaying the debt.
Boozman, Tester and Brown introduced the Veterans Debt Fairness Act to reduce these overpayment errors and require the VA to hold itself, and not veterans, accountable for its mistakes. Their bill requires the VA to shoulder the debt burden of overpayments if the VA was responsible for the debt.
“Veterans rely on their VA benefits to make ends meet and shouldn’t be penalized for the department’s accounting mistakes,” Boozman, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said. “Supporting veterans and their families by eliminating the potential for hardships caused by the VA’s errors is important to honoring our commitment to their service and sacrifice.”
“It’s wrong to put the debt from the VA’s accounting mistakes on the shoulders of men and women who have served their country,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “For some veterans, these benefits make the difference between paying monthly rent or missing payments, and we’ve got to stop the VA from pulling the rug out from under veterans and their families.”
“Our veterans sacrifice so much already to serve our country. They shouldn’t be paying for the mistakes of the agency that’s supposed to serve them,” said Brown.
VA benefit overpayment notices have been steadily increasing, sometimes for a payment period dating back as far as five years. Many of these debt overpayments are at no fault of the veteran or their dependents, but rather VA accounting errors and record mismanagement. Currently, the VA can send out debt repayment notices to veterans requesting the full amount due within 30 days while freezing all benefit payments until the debt is repaid.
The Veterans Debt Fairness Act requires the VA to update its computer systems so veterans can update their own information regarding their beneficiaries, eliminating a key cause of overpayments. Under their bill, the VA would be required to offer electronic notification of debt notices, including information on how to file appeals and hardship waivers. Debt collection would have to adhere to a 5-year backlog time limit and no more than 25 percent withholding of benefit payments.
Boozman cosponsored similar legislation last year. Provisions of that bill were signed into law as part of the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018forcing the VA to allow veterans to make changes to their personal information themselves. The backlog of these information requests were a main contributor to VA overpayments.
Cosponsors of the Veterans Debt Fairness Act include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).