Congresswoman Chellie Pingree

Representing the 1st District of Maine

U.S. House Unanimously Passes Pingree Bill to Assist Veterans with VA Debt

Nov 8, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously passed Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s (D-Maine) bill, the Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act. The legislation provides veterans with more timely and understandable notifications about possible debts with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

“This bill offers a common sense fix to frustrations that veterans across the country have experienced with the VA’s debt management system.  Veterans in Maine have called my office shocked to find out they owe the VA money,” Pingree said during a floor speech before the vote. “Some are confused by the letters they receive.  Others are told by the VA that they’ve missed important deadlines to dispute, seek forgiveness, or create a payment plan for the alleged debt. Regardless of whether the debt is real or a mistake by the VA, we shouldn’t make it so hard for veterans to know their rights and obligations.”

Last Thursday, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs passed an amended version of Pingree’s bill. In September, Pingree testified before committee members on her legislation.

The intention of the bill is to provide veterans with more timely and understandable notifications when they have a possible debt with the Department of Veterans Affairs for overpayment of benefits. Pingree’s office has worked with multiple veterans who did not learn of their debt until it was too late for them to take action. 

As amended by the committee, the legislation directs the VA to: 

1. Work with veterans service organizations to draft a plain language notification,

2. Create a system for sending notifications electronically in combination with mail, and 

3. Study the problem of veterans not receiving notifications and the costs of sending letters by certified mail. 

Congresswoman Pingree’s Floor statement on H.R. 3705, the Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act

Thank you for yielding the time.

I rise in support of the Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act.  This bill offers a common sense fix to frustrations that veterans across the country have experienced with the VA’s debt management system.

Veterans in Maine have called my office shocked to find out they owe the VA money.  Some are confused by the letters they receive.  Others are told by the VA that they’ve missed important deadlines to dispute, seek forgiveness, or create a payment plan for the alleged debt. 

Regardless of whether the debt is real or a mistake by the VA, we shouldn’t make it so hard for veterans to know their rights and obligations.

We’ve seen single mom veterans who can’t get a home loan and newly transitioned service members who struggle to re-integrate with garnished pay, recouped tax returns and reduced disability payments, all because of assigned debts they knew nothing about after notifications got sent to the wrong place or “lost in the mail.”

In response, H.R. 3705 directs the VA to work with veterans service organizations to develop standard notification letters that are written in plain language.

It also directs the VA to explore how to inform veterans of debts more quickly by sending notifications electronically in addition to standard mail. 

And it requires the VA to study why so many veterans have not received notifications in the mail, as well as steps the VA can take to improve its address database and the costs using certified mail.

I thank Chairmen Roe and Bost, and Ranking Members Walz and Esty for bringing this legislation to the House floor, and I urge its passage.

Thank you.