Members of Congress from both parties have asked the Veterans Administration to continue its policy of deferring billing for medical procedures due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus after the agency announced it would resume collections in January after a nine-month hiatus.
Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa urged VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a letter this week to extend the moratorium until July.
''Many of our Iowa veterans have experienced serious financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic,'' Ernst said in a statement quoted by Stars and Stripes. ''While the VA has acted to help relieve some of those financial burdens, it’s critical we extend this relief.''
Her letter followed another by 33 House Democrats, who also asked for the VA not to resume billing until there is ''some measure of economic and employment normalcy.''
VA spokeswoman Christina Noel said the agency has the authority to continue its suspension of billing, but that it does not have the authority to cancel the debts.
The VA postponed billing in April due to the health emergency and subsequent widespread unemployment. It extended the deferments in August until Dec. 31, but sent notices of outstanding balances earlier this month.
''VA could continue to defer veteran debt; however, we do not have authority to waive all veteran debt, so the debt will continue to grow,'' Noel said. ''VA feels it is in the veterans’ best interest to notify them of a potential debt. If they are unable to repay the debt or if doing so would cause a financial hardship, VA can work with individuals to provide relief based upon their unique circumstance.''
Veterans can opt to make smaller monthly payments and those facing hardship are encouraged to contact the VA to make special arrangements, Noel said.
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