House Committee Approves Pingree Initiative to Help Veterans in Debt to VA
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The House Committee on Veterans Affairs today passed an amended version of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s legislation—H.R. 3705, the Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act—to help veterans who have a debt with the Department of Veteran Affairs. The bill could come to the House floor as soon as next week.
“Too many veterans don’t learn about their possible debts with the VA until it’s too late for them to take action. That’s simply unacceptable, especially in light of the commonsense changes that can be made to make sure veterans are properly notified,” Pingree said. “Today’s vote is an important first step in addressing this problem, giving clear and timely information to veterans about their rights and steps they can take to resolve their debt. I’m pleased that this bipartisan effort will move forward.”
Congresswoman Pingree testified at a September 13 Veterans Committee hearing in support of her bill. Video of her testimony can be seen here.The Committee held an oversight hearing on October 25 on the underlying issue of VA overpayments.
Pingree’s bill originated from assisting veteran constituents who only learned about their debt with the VA once their benefits had been withheld or loans rejected. Having never received notifications about their debt with the VA, they missed deadlines to appeal the debt, apply for a waiver, or set up a payment plan. Sent by standard mail, notifications had gone to outdated addresses or ones where veterans had never lived at all.
The Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act Pingree introduced would require the VA to send these notifications by certified mail—ensuring that their receipt is confirmed—as well as to use plain language.
As amended by the committee, the bill wouldn’t require the VA to use certified mail, but it does take several other steps to ensure more timely and understandable notifications:
- Directs the VA to work with veterans service organizations to come up with a standard letter with plain language to explain why the veteran owes the debt and what his/or her options are to challenge or seek forgiveness or a payment plan.
- Directs the VA to develop a method of informing veterans of the option of receiving such notices by electronic means in addition to standard mail.
- Requires the VA to perform a study on (a) the scope of the problem of veterans not receiving notices in the mail, (b) steps the VA can take to improve its address database, and (c) the cost estimate of sending notifications by certified mail.