WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday it would pause debt collections again after billing restarted in January.
This time, debt collections will be stalled through Sept. 30 to provide veterans with financial relief during the coronavirus pandemic. The decision affects about 2 million veterans who owe medical copayments or benefit overpayments.
"My top priority right now is to do everything in our power to help veterans, caregivers and their families get through this challenging COVID-19 pandemic," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. "VA will continue to find ways to provide real relief to 2 million veterans and their families as we fight through this health crisis together."
The department said it would contact veterans to notify them about debts and inform them of their options, which include suspending payments or extending repayment plans.
Debt collection was stalled for nine months before billing restarted Jan. 1. Two days after his inauguration, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that asked the VA to consider pausing federal collections on overpayments and debts.
At the start of February — before McDonough was confirmed as secretary — the department said it was "exploring options" to pause collections again.
Several lawmakers had called on the VA to reinstate the pause. Last year, Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., introduced legislation to halt billing until the federal emergency declaration was lifted. Pappas and Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, applauded McDonough's decision Thursday.
"As veterans across the country continue to suffer from the severe economic consequences of this pandemic, the last thing they need is a call from a debt collector," Pappas said in a statement. "In addition to dealing with COVID-19, all too often our veterans also face unexpected debt collection from the VA, sometimes due to overpayments through no fault of their own. That is why I have been fighting for a suspension of VA debt collection for the duration of this crisis."
The VA suggests that any veteran with questions about benefit overpayments call 800-827-0648 for more information. For veterans with questions about medical copayment debt, contact the Health Resource Center at 866-400-1238.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.