Debt collection goes on while VA ‘exploring options’ to reinstate pause
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 3, 2021
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WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs is “exploring options” to pause debt collections again after the billing restarted last month.
The debt collection had been stalled for nine months to address financial hardships caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The pause expired Jan. 1.
Dat Tran, acting secretary of the VA, said in a statement Monday that the department was “exploring options to pause federal collections on compensation and pension overpayments, and medical and education-related debts.”
Tran said the VA was “looking at immediate ways” to help. The decision affects about 2 million veterans. The department said updated information would be available as soon as possible, though it was unclear Wednesday when veterans might know.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order Jan. 22 focusing on economic relief amid the pandemic. In a news release, his administration said the order asked the VA to consider pausing federal collections on overpayments and debts.
Instead, the VA on Friday extended a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until March 31. That includes all properties secured by VA-guaranteed loans.
Several lawmakers have called on the VA to reinstate the pause on debt collections. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., introduced legislation last year to halt the billing until the federal emergency declaration is lifted.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., questioned Richard Stone, acting undersecretary of the Veterans Health Administration, about the issue in December. Stone, who was retained in his role by Biden’s administration, said at the time that the VA didn’t have the authority to waive debt payments. The VA said then that it would make special arrangements for veterans facing financial hardship.
On Monday, Tran said he would work with Congress and veterans service organizations on the issue.
“VA is fully committed to lessening these financial hardships,” he said.