Brown’s Amendment Inspired by Massillon Veteran who Raised VA Overpayment Issue with Brown
WASHINGTON, D.C. —On the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Brown (D-OH) called for passage of his amendment to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill (MilCon-VA Bill) to require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to track overpayments to veterans, which leads to veteran debt. Brown’s amendment is based on his bipartisan bill, the Veterans’ Debt Fairness Act, which was inspired by a meeting with Massillon veteran James Powers concerning a VA overpayment mistake.
“Our veterans sacrifice so much already to serve our country,” said Brown. “They shouldn’t be paying for the mistakes of the agency that’s supposed to serve them.”
According to a VICE news report, overpayments from VA have been on the rise since 2013. In 2016 alone, VA issued upwards of 200,000 overpayment notices to veterans, often recouping funds by withholding some or all of a veteran’s monthly disability benefit payments.
Brown’s amendment requires VA to track the amount of veteran debt, whether that debt is the result of VA processing changes, and if the debt is disputed by the veteran.
Brown is the longest-serving U.S. Senator from Ohio on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, can be found below.
Last year, I met an Ohio veteran from Massillon, James Powers.
Mr. Powers brought to my attention a problem he was having with the VA’s accounting mistakes, and our conversation led to a bill that I introduced with Senators Jon Tester and John Boozman, the bipartisan Veterans’ Debt Fairness Act.
Both senators are on the Veterans Committee with me and know how VA overpayment and debt affect veterans every day.
James retired in 2016, but he noticed the Army was continuing to pay him both active duty salary and retirement benefits. He caught the mistake, and did the honorable thing and notified the VA that they were overpaying him.
But the VA continued overpaying him – and then they charged him twice to recoup the overpayments, and garnished his benefits.
The staff in my office worked with the VA to resolve James’s issue, but this should never have happened in the first place.
And his story is all too common. In 2016 alone, the VA issued more than 200,000 overpayment notices to veterans. When this happens, the agency often tries to get its money back by withholding some or all of the monthly disability payments that our veterans have earned.
Our veterans have dealt with enough stress already – they shouldn’t be forced to pay for the VA’s accounting mistakes.
Our bill would ban the VA from charging veterans for its own mistaken overpayments.
It would also protect veterans who depend on their benefits by capping the amount the VA can deduct from a veteran’s monthly payment at 25 percent, and it would ban the VA from collecting debts more than five years old.
Our veterans sacrifice so much already to serve our country. They shouldn’t be paying for the mistakes of the agency that’s supposed to serve them.
Unfortunately, our bill was not included in the National Defense Authorization Act last week.
So instead, we have an amendment to the VA MilCon bill to require the VA to track these overpayments and report to Congress on the scope of VA debt.
We will continue to push for our bill, but I hope all my colleagues will join me in supporting this bipartisan, commonsense step toward fixing VA overpayment and debt for America’s veterans.