Biden Signs Executive Order Delaying VA Debt Collections

U.S. President Joe Biden signs an executive order.
U.S. President Joe Biden signs an executive order as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on during an event on economic crisis in the State Dining Room of the White House January 22, 2021 in Washington, DC (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden announced Friday that he was asking the Department of Veterans Affairs once again to delay collecting debts from veterans.

According to the White House, an economic relief executive order signed Friday "will help approximately 2 million veterans maintain their financial footing by asking the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to consider pausing federal collections on overpayments and debts."

According to the announcement, the executive order will also:

  • Ask states to expand and extend federal nutrition assistance programs (food stamps).
  • Ask the Treasury Department to improve the delivery of relief payments.
  • Prevent Americans from losing their unemployment benefits if they turn down a job that has unsafe working conditions that may expose them to COVID-19.

The text of the order, signed Friday afternoon, was less specific.

"All executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall promptly identify actions they can take within existing authorities to address the current economic crisis resulting from the pandemic," it read. "Agencies should specifically consider actions that facilitate better use of data and other means to improve access to, reduce unnecessary barriers to, and improve coordination among programs funded in whole or in part by the Federal Government."

But Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., confirmed in a statement Friday that the debt collection delay had been extended.

"Far too often veterans face unexpected debt collection from the VA, some due to overpayments that were through no fault of their own," he said. "However, this Executive Order will provide the relief so many need and ensure that our veterans can focus on their physical and financial health during these trying times."

While executive orders do not carry the weight of law, they often do result in substantial changes in the way that government agencies in the executive branch conduct business. It was not immediately clear when or if affected agencies would begin honoring the president's request.

There was no indication on exactly what debts the VA would be requested to suspend or how long the suspension would last. Late last year, the VA announced that it would begin collecting medical copayments owed by veterans for treatment during the previous nine months.

The VA had suspended all debt collection since April 2020 in response to an executive order from President Donald Trump.

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