Congressmen introduce bill to 'shield' veterans from VA overpayment errors that lead to debt

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When the Department of Veterans Affairs mistakenly sends a veteran too much money in benefits, veterans should not have to bear the burden of repaying what can become surprise debt, so two members of Congress have introduced a bill to "shield" those veterans. 

The Stopping Harm and Implementing Enhanced Lead-time for Debts (SHIELD) for Veterans Act was introduced Thursday by Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y. and Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., aiming to "reform" the VA's debt collection process. 

The bill follows what both Congressmen described as an "alarming" hearing in the House Veterans Affairs Committee where members heard stories of veterans on fixed incomes suddenly stuck with thousands in debt because of VA mistakes that sometimes happened years before. 

A 94-year-old veteran told VA his wife died. 7 years later, VA came to collect a debt.

At that hearing, Pappas said the VA sent more than 600,000 debt collection notices to veterans and their families last year for overpayments totaling $1.6 billion -- similar to previous years. 

Those overpayments happen because of "mistakes in disability payouts, changes in eligibility or simple accounting errors" which can cause significant financial harm to thousands of veterans affected. 

The bill would: 

  • Prevent VA from collecting overpayments that were due to a delay in processing by VA;
  • Require VA to provide notice of any overpayment and its plan to collect that debt at least 90 days before beginning collections;
  • Require VA to notify veterans of their right to dispute overpayments or to request waivers for that debt;
  • Prohibit VA from charging interest or "administrative costs" on debts related to disability compensation, pensions or educational assistance;
  • Require VA to submit a report to Congress by May 2020 on its plans to improve its system of notifying veterans about overpayments.

“When the VA fails, veterans shouldn’t be the ones having to pick up the tab and pay lawyers to fight for what they’re owed,” Rose, an Army combat veteran, said in a statement. “The fact is it shouldn’t take a member of Congress stepping in to make this right. It’s time we fix this once and for all.”

“Many veterans rely on their earned benefits to make ends meet,” Pappas said. “It is unacceptable that the VA’s mistakes or inefficiencies are hurting the men and women they are supposed to serve. I am proud to introduce the SHIELD for Veterans Act which takes critical steps to reform the VA and ensure we are making good on the promises we have made to our veterans.”  

Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.
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