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Stopping Harm and Implementing Enhanced Lead-Time for Debts for Veterans Act

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 23, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. PAPPAS. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Madam Speaker, I thank Chairman Takano and Ranking Member Roe for their words, as well as for their efforts to help us get to yes on this important piece of legislation.

I rise in support of H.R. 5245, a bill I introduced along with my colleague, Congressman Max Rose, to fix some major problems directly affecting our veterans.

Last year, I heard from one of my constituents, New Hampshire veteran Jeff Varney, who contacted my office for assistance. Jeff, like thousands of other veterans across the country, is facing tremendous financial hardship due to VA errors.

Jeff was in disbelief when the VA informed him that he needed to repay years of benefit overpayments because of an apparent error that VA made decades ago.

So after a lifetime of service, and through no fault of his own, Jeff was told he is on the hook for more than $11,000, even though VA produced no accounting of how these debts were accrued.

Unfortunately, Jeff is not alone in this experience, and too many of our veterans are badly surprised when they receive letters saying they owe the VA money. Sometimes these debts reach thousands of dollars. During the hearings held by our Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, we heard from veterans service organizations about the pain and hardship that these surprises may bring.

Last fiscal year, the VA collected $1.6 billion in debts from veterans. Sometimes these debts result from mistakes in disability payouts, changes in eligibility, or simple accounting errors that place an undue, unexpected financial burden on our veterans.

It is long past the time to clean this issue up. That is why today I am asking my colleagues to support the SHIELD for Veterans Act, which reforms VA debt collection processes and ensures we are making good on the promises we have made to our veterans.

The SHIELD Act prevents VA from collecting overpayments that came as a result of their own delays in processing and requires the VA to provide our veterans notice of an overpayment and their plan to collect it. It also requires VA to notify veterans of their ability to dispute the overpayment or request a waiver.

Under this bill, VA will issue a report to Congress on a plan to improve communications with our veterans on the debt issue.

The last thing that my constituent needs, and other constituents need, is to be hounded by debt collectors, especially if they have done everything right.

This is a bipartisan, commonsense bill, and I really want to thank the majority and minority staff for their work. I thank my ranking member, General Bergman, as well as Congressman Bost, for their contributions to helping make this bill better.

It is simply unacceptable that VA's mistakes or inefficiencies are going to hurt the men and women that they are supposed to serve

Madam Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

Mr. DAVID P. ROE of Tennessee. Madam Speaker, I encourage my colleagues to support this commonsense bill. It is one of the most common things we hear in our office, about an outrageous debt that a veteran owes back that they didn't know they owed because of a bureaucratic snafu. We have all heard these cases.

I thank my colleagues for bringing this up. We should have done this years ago.

Madam Speaker, I encourage my colleagues to support this bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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