Montana Vets Will Get Continued Debt Relief During COVID-19 Following Tester Push

VA announces extension of debt relief options for veterans nationwide through September 30 due to ongoing pandemic; Chairman continues years-long fight to provide copayment and debt relief for vets in COVID-19 relief package

(Big Sandy, Mont.) – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is extending debt relief for veterans through September 30 following a push from Chairman Jon Tester of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to provide financial relief during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

VA will continue suspension of collection on all veteran benefit overpayments and medical copayment debts incurred after April 1, 2020.

“No veteran should have to worry about choosing between their health care and providing for their family during a global pandemic,” said Chairman Tester. “Extending debt relief for vets means one less burden for the folks who served our country and need our support during this economic crisis. I’ll keep fighting to ensure we’re doing all we can for Montana’s veterans and their families during these tough times, including health care co-payment relief as we work towards another COVID assistance package.”

Tester has fought tirelessly for years in Congress to provide relief for veterans who are harmed by VA debt collections, often through no fault of their own and errors made by VA. He led the effort in 2018 by introducing the Veteran Debt Fairness Act, which include key provisions that became law. Tester doubled down on his effort in a bipartisan letter to VA Secretary Wilkie in 2019, urging VA to stop collecting debts where the error was on the part of VA or on debts older than five years as well as deducting more than 25 percent from a veterans’ monthly payment.

He later introduced the Veteran Debt Fairness Act of 2019, bipartisan legislation to reduce overpayment errors and hold VA—not veterans—accountable for its mistakes by improving the due process accorded to veterans when VA attempts to recover overpayments and debts owed. This legislation was later included in the Stopping Harm and Implementing Enhanced Lead-time for Veterans Act (SHIELD) for Veterans Act of 2020. Critical provisions under this bill were signed into law in January 2021 as part of an end-of-year package to better address the needs of veterans nationwide.

Last month, Tester met with President Joe Biden and Senate leaders to discuss a comprehensive COVID-19 relief plan, where he highlighted the urgent need to provide additional support to veterans—especially those in rural areas across Montana. He successfully included a provision in the COVID-relief package to waive VA health care copayment debts and billing during the economic crisis, which passed the House of Representatives on February 11.