In reaction to the national emergency caused by the novel coronavirus, President Donald Trump has directed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to stop withholding payments or benefits from veterans who have a debt with the agency.
In his April 2 news conference detailing the nation's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump announced that he had directed VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to suspend collections from veterans.
During the news conference, the president stated, "We take very good care of our veterans. At my direction, Secretary Wilkie will use any authority at his disposal to extend deadlines for benefits and suspend debt collections."
While the exact timeline and process of the debt suspension isn't known at this time, the VA's Debt Management Center (DMC) states on its website that it is currently offering temporary debt relief on a case-by-case basis. The website states, "If you are affected by the COVID-19 (CORONAVIRUS), have a [Veterans Benefits Administration] benefit debt and need temporary financial relief, please contact DMC at 1-800-827-0648 to request assistance.”
As a result of the president's statement, you shouldn't have to call the VA's DMC to have your debt suspended. However, it is probably advisable to take the initiative and request suspension of debt collections, just in case.
Trump's statement also sounds like it directs the department to stop collection of any debts related to VA medical treatment; however, that remains to be seen.
If you owe the VA money for overpaid benefits, your debt will not be excused, just suspended. You will still have to pay it back eventually. The exact timeline of the suspension is not known at this time, but the announcement will most likely stop any garnishments, tax levies and court-ordered collections for the foreseeable future.
Normally, if you owe the VA money, it will either work with you to get it back or force you to comply. Measures could include adding interest and late fees to your debt after 30 days; withholding other VA benefits after 90 days; garnishing your wages; withholding other federal benefits; and referring you to a collection bureau after 120 days.
Veterans Education Success, a veterans advocacy group, applauded the announcement on its Twitter account, stating, "We're cautiously optimistic of this announcement as it's been a priority of ours during this time of a national crisis in our country."
The group testified to Congress in September 2019 that VA debt collection affects one in four GI Bill recipients and often results in the department withholding disability payments and tax refunds or garnishing wages to satisfy debts.
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