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Here’s what happens when the VA is your debt collector

Last year, the Department of Defense came under national scrutiny after it demanded nearly 10,000 California National Guard soldiers pay back enlistment bonuses the department had paid them by mistake. Now a VICE News investigation has uncovered a separate accounting debacle affecting tens of thousands of veterans: the Department of Veterans Affairs says it gave them too much money in benefits — and it’s demanding they pay up.

The VA sent nearly 187,000 overpayment notices last year and told veterans it would withhold their benefits checks until their debt — sometimes tens of thousands of dollars — was paid off. Some veterans are disputing the debts; they say that without more information, they can’t know whether they or the VA are at fault. According to some veterans, the VA’s bureaucratic appeals process  amounts to a one-sided conversation resulting in few answers.

Read the whole story, “Indebted” on VICE News, and see the highlights below:

  • Overpayment notices from the VA have tripled since 2013, to nearly 187,000 last year, affecting just under 2 percent of those receiving benefits. A couple of years ago, the VA drew criticism for its controversial claims backlog. Now, the agency says efforts to reduce the backlog is one of the reasons it has suddenly turned up so many overpayments.
  • The VA said it couldn’t give figures on how much overpayment debt it’s trying to collect from veterans overall, but NPR reported the agency overpaid 2,200 incarcerated vets more than $24 million in 2015 — likely a small fraction of what the agency overpaid in total.
  • The VA said there’s no limit on how much it can ask a vet to repay, and no limit on how far back it is willing to go to collect overpayments. The collection of these overpayments can send veterans into crippling debt.
  • The VA can collect on debts shortly after it alerts the veteran to the overpayment, in some cases even when the veteran disputes the agency’s claims.
  • Some veterans say the VA has failed to provide clear accounting of the debts despite their efforts to get more information.
  • Veteran advocacy organizations like Veteran Warriors and the Wounded Warrior Project have been able to help in some disputes.
  • The VA declined to comment on the concerns veterans have raised about the debt collection process.

Read the whole story, “Indebted,” on VICE News.

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