In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs is suspending its pause on some debt collection from veterans through the end of this year.
Specifically, the department will suspend all actions on veteran debts that fall under the U.S. Treasury Department's jurisdiction, VA announced -- including suspending collecting debts or extending repayment terms on pre-existing VA debts. Either way, VA said it will be up to the veteran's preference.
“Veterans and their families should be focused on their health and safety during the pandemic,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “VA is taking action to give those with pending debts greater flexibility during these challenging times.”
Earlier this year, lawmakers including top Veterans Affairs members in the Senate, Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Jon Tester, D-Mont., and House Veterans Affairs member Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., called for VA to halt debt collection and provide extensions for veterans applying for benefits during the national emergency. In April, President Donald Trump ordered the department to cease collections.
"At my direction, Secretary Wilkie will use any authority at his disposal to extend deadlines for benefits and to postpone debt collections," the president said at the time.
Shortly thereafter, VA announced it would suspend debt collection and give extensions for some benefits processes. But it was unclear how long those allowances would last. Now, VA has said the pause for debt collection will last at least until the end of 2020.
Pappas introduced legislation in April that goes further than VA's latest announcement, prohibiting VA from demanding repayment from veterans until the emergency declaration is lifted and suspending debt under VA's jurisdiction, not just the Treasury's. Pappas serves as the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs oversight and investigations subpanel.
“Veterans across the country have been suffering from the severe economic consequences of this pandemic, and I am glad the VA is finally taking steps to provide some much-needed relief,” Pappas said in a statement. “Too many veterans face unexpected debt collection from VA, some due to overpayments that were through no fault of their own. I hope the VA continues to listen to our veterans and ensure they can get debt relief for the duration of this pandemic."
For benefit debts, veterans can contact the VA Debt Management Center at 1-800-827-0648.
For healthcare debts, veterans can contact the Health Resource Center at 1-866-400-1238 or www.pay.gov for payments.