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VIDEO: House Passes Legislation Containing Pingree Provision to Help Veterans Blindsided by Debt

Washington, DC, December 11, 2018


Legislative efforts by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) to help veterans blindsided by debt to the Department of Veterans Affairs cleared a major hurdle last night, passing the House within a broader piece of veterans legislation, S. 2248. The bill now goes on to the Senate, where it is likely to pass as the result of a pre-negotiated deal between the House and Senate veterans committees. 

During debate on the bill yesterday, Pingree spoke in support of the legislation and her provision.

“Because of failure to notify, or confusingly-worded letters, many veterans in Maine and elsewhere are shocked to learn they owe debts and have missed deadlines to dispute or seek forgiveness for the alleged debt. This legislation improves the way that veterans are notified about debts that they may owe from a VA benefits program,” Pingree said in her floor speech. “The bill directs the VA to work with veterans service organizations to develop standard notification notices written in plain language and allows veterans to receive notices electronically. To promote accountability, the bill also requires the VA to report to Congress on the new standard, and on the VA’s efforts to reduce the number of errors in its debt notification system.”

Pingree’s full remarks are below.

BACKGROUND ON PINGREE’S LEGISLATION

Pingree's office has worked with multiple Maine veterans who were inadequately alerted to money they owed the VA, finding out only after it was too late to for them to take action to address it. 

As a result, Pingree introduced the Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act, which the House unanimously passed in November 2017. The legislation mandates that the VA work with veteran service organizations to develop plain language debt notifications that clearly outline a veteran's options, and that veterans are given the option of receiving electronic notifications in addition to mailed copies. 

After Pingree's bill was passed in the House, Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced a companion bill that also included language requiring the VA to report to Congress on how many veterans are not receiving debt notifications and how the process can be improved.

Veterans Committees on both the House and Senate sides have recently negotiated a package of veterans legislation that includes the debt language among other provisions. It now returns to the Senate for final passage.

TEXT OF PINGREE’S FLOOR SPEECH, AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

I rise in support of the Veterans Benefit and Transition Act of 2018.  It’s always a good feeling to be able to speak for common sense legislation put together in a bipartisan fashion for the good of America’s veterans,

In particular, I welcome inclusion of section 504, the Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act I introduced last year in response to frustrations veterans experienced with the VA’s debt management system.  It incorporates refinements made in the Senate companion bill, introduced by Senator Deb Fischer, demonstrating the bipartisan nature of this effort.

Because of failure to notify, or confusingly-worded letters, many veterans in Maine and elsewhere are shocked to learn they owe debts and have missed deadlines to dispute or seek forgiveness for the alleged debt. This legislation improves the way that veterans are notified about debts that they may owe from a VA benefits program.

The bill directs the VA to work with veterans service organizations to develop standard notification notices written in plain language and allows veterans to receive notices electronically. 

To promote accountability, the bill also requires the VA to report to Congress on the new standard, and on the VA’s efforts to reduce the number of errors in its debt notification system.

I thank Chairmen Roe and Ranking Member Walz for their work and support, and urge passage.

Thank you.

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