Tester, Brown, Blumenthal: Punishing Veterans for VA Accounting Errors is Cruel Way to Repay Their Service

Senators’ Bill Protects Veterans From Undue Financial Hardship

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have introduced legislation to protect veterans from paying for the VA’s accounting mistakes.

According to a VICE news report, overpayments from the VA have been on the rise since 2013. In 2016 alone, the VA issued upwards of 200,000 overpayment notices to veterans, often recouping funds by withholding some or all of a veteran’s monthly disability benefit payments.

In response, the Senators introduced legislation that prevents the VA from recouping those benefits in a way that causes financial hardships for veterans and their families and that prohibits the VA from charging veterans for overpayments when the VA is at fault.

“Punishing disabled veterans for the VA’s accounting mistakes is a cruel way to serve those who have sacrificed the most for our country,”
said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Veterans rely on their VA disability benefits to pay for their homes or medical care. This bill will protect veterans and their families from unnecessary financial difficulty when the VA has sloppily managed its books.”

“Veterans should not be punished for callous and careless accounting errors caused by the VA’s own inability to ensure timely and accurate benefit payments,” said Blumenthal. “This bill is commonsense, and it’s the least Congress can do to support disabled veterans and their families.”

“If the VA makes a mistake, our veterans shouldn’t pay the price,” said Brown. “Veterans’ hard-earned benefits help them, and their families, cover the cost of monthly expenses. It’s just wrong to throw veterans into financial hardship to make up for VA accounting errors.”

The Senators’ Veterans’ Debt Fairness Act will address the root causes of VA overpayments and institute common-sense protections for veterans by:

  • Only allowing the VA to collect debts that occur as a result of an error or fraud on the part of a veteran or their beneficiary. 
  • Requiring that the VA cannot deduct more than 25 percent from a veteran’s monthly payment in order to recoup overpayment or debt. This amount may be further reduced if the deduction puts that veteran at risk of financial hardship, for example if the veteran is living on a fixed income. 
  • Preventing the VA from collecting debts incurred more than five years prior. Currently there is no time limit on how long after a payment a veteran can be billed.
  • Requiring the VA to provide veterans with a way to update their dependency information on their own, eliminating a key processing delay for veterans, which frequently contributes to the VA making overpayments. 

Veteran Service Organizations praised the Veterans’ Debt Fairness Act.

“Veterans who live on fixed income or depend on their GI Bill benefits to provide for their families have limited access to the financial resources needed to immediately repay an overpayment,” said Carlos Fuentes, Director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Legislative Service. “In most instances the overpayment was not caused by the veteran and the current process that VA utilizes to collect overpayments is flawed and often makes a bad situation worse. The VFW thanks Senator Tester for his leadership on this important issue. The legislation being introduced today will address many of the shortcomings with VA’s debt collection process and the VFW strongly encourages broad support and swift passage of this bill.”

“The American Legion has worked hard to protect veterans who are involved in debt management and collection issues with the VA,” said Denise Rohan, National Commander of the American Legion. “The American Legion representatives working at the VA Debt Management Center have helped thousands of veterans and surviving spouses avoid financial hardship. We are confident that this proposed legislation, as currently written, would afford important protections to veterans and their families who, through no fault of their own, have incurred VA-related debt. These protections are warranted and a symbol of the debt of gratitude our nation owes to those who have served. We look forward to the swift passage of this important legislation.”