As Expiration of VA’s COVID-19 Debt Collection Moratorium Approaches, Shaheen Calls on Secretary Wilkie to Protect Veterans & Inform Them of Repayment Options
SHAHEEN: “The federal government must continue to work in every way possible to mitigate the impact of this pandemic on those who have selflessly served our nation.”
(Washington, DC) – As the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) moratorium on debt collection ends soon, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) called on the agency this week to make every attempt to notify veterans of when it will resume collection of medical debt and inform them of their repayment options and financial hardship assistance available. The expiration of the VA’s COVID-19 debt collection moratorium is set to expire on December 31st, 2020. This has led to concerns that Granite State veterans could be unexpectedly saddled with exorbitant debt obligations when the VA restarts collections.
“I am concerned that veterans who are unaware of their ability to continue making payments will face insurmountable bills when the VA begins collecting deferred payments in 2021… The VA must ensure that those veterans who are eligible for this assistance are aware of these options during the pandemic and when payments on outstanding debt resume,” wrote Shaheen.
Shaheen continued, “My office has heard from Granite Staters who were unaware of these debt collection changes until they failed to receive an expected copayment bill and were forced to inquire about payment options at the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Prompt notification of these changes to veterans through electronic communication, mail or telephone would help to reduce uncertainty and allow veterans to choose their preferred repayment method. It would also make it less likely that veterans are unexpectedly saddled with exorbitant debt obligations when the VA restarts collections.”
She concluded her letter by urging the VA to work in every possible way to mitigate the impact of the pandemic for veterans. The full text of the letter can be viewed here.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Shaheen has fought to provide financial relief to veterans and their families. In April, Shaheen and a group of Senators called on the Trump Administration to issue stimulus checks automatically to recipients of benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Supplemental Security Income program. This followed successful efforts to push the U.S. Treasury Department to automatically send Social Security recipients direct cash assistance included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act without having to file tax returns.
Shaheen has also worked to ensure veterans and their families have the services and resources they need amid this crisis. Earlier this month, Shaheen joined a bipartisan group of Senators to call on VA Secretary Wilkie to provide coverage of comprehensive telehealth services, including voice communication, for beneficiaries of the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). She previously called on Wilkie to strengthen New Hampshire veterans’ access to telehealth as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. The CARES Act that Senator Shaheen helped negotiate and worked to pass into law included $2.15 billion in funding to the VA to enhance its ability to provide telehealth services to veterans. In May, Shaheen introduced legislation to assist health care providers delivering telehealth services and ensure patients can continue to access health care from the safety of their homes. Shaheen also participated in bipartisan calls for a permanent expansion of telehealth services that Congress included in the CARES Act. The bipartisan legislation included a provision to expand access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries in New Hampshire and across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.