The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced the partial suspension of debt collections against veterans through the end of the year to provide financial relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a July 9 news release, the VA said it was suspending all actions against veterans to the end of 2020 where responsibility for the collection of money owed has passed from the VA to the Treasury Department.
Under current rules, the Treasury Department has jurisdiction over VA debt collection after the debt has been delinquent for more than 120 days.
In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said, "Veterans and their families should be focused on their health and safety during the pandemic. VA is taking action to give those with pending debts greater flexibility during these challenging times."
In an April 2 news conference on the administration's response to COVID-19, President Donald Trump directed the VA to suspend the collection of debts, which are often the result of the VA's own mistakes in making overpayments on disability ratings or health care co-pays.
"We take very good care of our veterans," Trump said. "At my direction, Secretary Wilkie will use any authority at his disposal to extend deadlines for benefits and suspend debt collections."
According to the office of Rep. Chris Pappas, D-New Hampshire, debt collections by the VA totaled about $1.6 billion in fiscal 2019.
Pappas, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has introduced legislation that would suspend debt collections by the VA, as well as by the Treasury Department.
"I am glad the VA is finally taking steps to provide some much needed relief," he said in a July 10 statement. "Too many veterans face unexpected debt collection from VA, some due to overpayments that were through no fault of their own."
For questions on debt suspensions involving benefits, the VA advised that veterans should contact the VA Debt Management Center at 1-800-827-0648.
For health care debts, the VA said that veterans should contact the Health Resource Center at 1-866-400-1238 or make payments here.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct certain dates.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.