A group of Senate lawmakers is again arguing that if veterans are overpaid on benefits because of accounting errors, they shouldn’t be punished for the federal government’s mistakes.
Legislation introduced Wednesday would require changes to how the Department of Veterans Affairs handles benefit corrections, including limiting the amount they can withhold from veterans’ future payouts to cover the debt.
“It’s wrong to put the debt from the VA’s accounting mistakes on the shoulders of men and women who have served their country,” Sen. Jon Tester, ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “For some veterans, these benefits make the difference between paying monthly rent or missing payments.
“We’ve got to stop the VA from pulling the rug out from under veterans and their families.”
Under current law, VA officials can withhold 100 percent of a veteran’s monthly benefits to cover past overpayments, even if those mistakes are the fault of federal officials.
The new legislation would limit that withholding to no more than 25 percent of a monthly benefits check and put a five-year limit on the time where VA officials can recover overpayments. The measure would not wipe out all debts related to VA mistakes.
The senators said up to 200,000 overpayment notifications are sent out to veterans and their families each year.
Bill co-sponsor Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., called the moves a common-sense step in providing better customer service to veterans.
“Supporting veterans and their families by eliminating the potential for hardships caused by the VA’s errors is important to honoring our commitment to their service and sacrifice,” he said in a statement.
Lawmakers proposed similar reforms last session but saw only parts of that legislation become law. Those changes included rewriting VA policy to allow veterans to update personal information in department systems, in an effort to cut down on potential mistakes in benefits payouts.
This measure goes further, requiring VA to update its computer systems to ease that process and mandating electronic notification of debt notices, including information on how to request hardship waivers.
The legislation, called the Veterans Debt Fairness Act, has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.