The VA giveth and the VA taketh away, and for many vets this year the VA seemed to do more taking than giving.
Earlier this year thousands of Vets found out first hand how the VA recoupment process works – or in many Post-9/11 GI Bill cases this year – doesn’t work. Being one of them, I thought it may be helpful if I shared the lessons I learned.
I was caught up in two "overpayment" issues. The first was the recoupment of the “$3K Emergency Advance” and the second involved an administrative error in reporting my enrollment. (See “The Fog of Policy” posts for more detail.)
Six Tips to Survive VA Recoupment:
The following tips can help you avoid wasting time and unnecessary frustration, especially if you have a legitimate disagreement with the VA's overpayment decision.
1. Never take an advance benefit payment if you are not able to endure the hardship caused when the VA computers take too much back later.
Most of us found out the hard way that the VA computerized recoupment systems don’t always get it right. I had asked to have $1,000 a month withheld - more than the automatic $750 – the system responded by taking it all.
Many other Vets who had asked to have less taken out also had their entire monthly benefits withheld.
2. Never send a “Notice of Disagreement” letter if you have pending claims in the VA system.
By policy all pending claims are held until the NOD is fully addressed. This means ANY VA claims, even a re-enrollment for the next semester or a pending Disability Compensation claim may be put on hold.
3. Always send a letter requesting a waiver before sending a NOD. Waivers are faster and easier to process and they don't lock up any pending VA claims.
4. Trust but verify. Check-in with the VA Debt Management Center regularly for updates on your pending claims.
5. Save EVERYTHING you get in the mail and log your phone conversations.
In addition, you should avoid over reacting to the letters you get from the VA. VA snail mail letters normally lag by at least a week sometimes more.
6. Remain respectful and professional.
It is easy to get frustrated by the system, especially if you have to hit redial 20 or more times before you get through. Remember - no good will come from loosing your cool – in fact it may slow your claims.
Throughout the entire process I found the people at the VA to be very polite and helpful. Most VA employees genuinely care for the Vets they serve and share our frustrations with the administrative red tape and broken systems.
Keeping these lessons learned in mind can help you avoid the complications I stumbled into and may help you resolve issues more quickly.