Veterans Affairs officials will extend their suspension of debt collection on benefits overpayments and medical co-pays through September, officials announced on Thursday.

The department had paused those debt repayments in April 2020, in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The suspension ended at the start of January, but department officials in recent weeks had received pressure from lawmakers and outside advocates to continue to show leniency in light of the ongoing pandemic.

In a statement, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the latest move is designed to ensure that veterans facing financial stress don’t have problems compounded by VA debt collectors.

“My top priority right now is to do everything in our power to help our veterans, caregivers and their families get through this challenging COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “VA will continue to find ways to provide real relief to 2 million veterans [with current debts] and their families as we fight through this health crisis together.”

Earlier this week, VA officials extended a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until the end of June, the fifth time that deadline has been pushed back. That applies to all properties backed by VA-guaranteed loans.

Veterans who owe other debts will be contacted by VA officials in coming weeks to discuss “available expansive relief options” for the money owed. In addition to the delay in collections, veterans may be eligible for extended repayment plans, debt waivers, and hardship suspensions.

Individuals who wish to pay back their debts before September are still permitted to do so.

Families with questions can also contact the VA Debt Management Center at 800-827-0648.

More than 10,000 patients connected to the department have died from coronavirus-related complications in the last 11 months, and more than 220,000 have contracted the illness.

Additional information is available at the VA website.

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.

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