Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District wants to help resolve what she says is a growing problem affecting many veterans in Maine and around the country: overpayment of benefits by Veterans Affairs. She's sponsered a bill to amend the problem. H.R.3705 will direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to require the use of certified mail and plain language in certain debt collection activities so veterans understand their rights.
The issue for veterans is being asked to repay large sums of money without advance notice or a way to appeal. Money the VA mistakenly paid them.
Pingree and her colleagues in Congress have been getting complaints from their veteran constituents and she's acting.
“We heard from people who found out from the VA that they owed large amounts of money and often they had no idea that they owed anything, or they were allegedly sent a notice but it might have gone to a state they never lived in or a place they hadn’t been for a long time,” she says.
Pingree’s office have helped veterans resolve these problems with the VA. She has sponsored Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act, H.R.3705 to remedy similar situations.
With certified letters, Pingree says the VA can be sure that its notifications get to veterans. Without them, she says veterans can be hurt.
“These are people who served their country. They’re injured. They have PTSD. They’re already in a difficult situation and we’re putting them in an even more vulnerable position, sometimes a devastating position,” said Pingree.
Pingree says the increase in overpayment errors appears to be tied, at least in part, to Veterans Affairs’ effort to reduce its backlog of benefit cases.
A public hearing on Pingree’s bill is scheduled for Wednesday.