WASHINGTON — Millions of veterans must begin paying back debts to the Department of Veterans Affairs now that the agency resumed collections following an 18-month pause.

The collection of debts from medical co-pays and benefits overpayments had been stalled to help ease financial hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The pause initially ended Jan. 1, but VA officials extended it through September after receiving pressure from lawmakers and advocates who argued the economic effects of the pandemic were still being felt by veterans.

The VA resumed debt collections Oct. 1. Beginning in January 2022, the agency will restart deducting veterans’ debts from their benefits payments.

About 2 million veterans owe debts to the VA. The department sent letters to the veterans notifying them that payments would now come due.

In a statement Friday, the VA said it would continue to provide some debt relief options for veterans who have been affected financially by the pandemic.

“The department will continue to provide relief options such as extending repayment plans, waivers and temporary hardship suspensions during these challenging times,” the agency said. “It has been and will remain a priority of the department to work individually with each veteran.”

To seek relief from the collections, veterans are asked to call 1-800-827-0648 for debt from benefits overpayments and 1-866-400-1238 for debt from medical co-pays.

(Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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