Walorski, Delaney, Hultgren, Sinema Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Veterans’ Credit Ratings

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Walorski, Delaney, Hultgren, Sinema Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Veterans’ Credit Ratings

Bill Helps Veterans Wrongly Penalized by Delayed Payments Under Veterans Choice Program

MISHAWAKA, Ind. – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (IN-02) this week joined U.S. Reps. John K. Delaney (MD-06), Randy Hultgren (IL-14), and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09) in introducing legislation to protect veterans’ credit ratings and prevent unnecessary financial hardship due to delayed payments associated with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Choice Program.

The slow disbursement of Veterans Choice Program payments has meant that potentially thousands of veterans have been adversely affected, having large and inaccurate medical debts wrongly listed in their name while the VA and private providers work through billing. This error can make it more difficult and more expensive for veterans to buy a home or car, rent a place to live, or be hired at a new job.

The Protecting Veterans Credit Act (H.R. 5593) creates a one year credit reporting grace period for the resolution of debt from medical services received through the VA’s Veterans Choice Program. Delaney and Hultgren’s legislation is supported by the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and the National Patient Advocate Foundation.

“I have heard from too many veterans asking my office for help because the VA or a VA contractor hasn’t paid their medical bills after receiving authorization for care through the Veterans Choice Program,” said Congresswoman Walorski, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This is simply unacceptable, which is why I’ve joined Congressman Delaney, Congressman Hultgren, and Congresswoman Sinema in introducing the Protecting Veterans’ Credit Act to protect our veterans from further financial harm. Delaying for one year the reporting of medical debt from services under the Veterans Choice Program will provide much-needed relief for these veterans while the VA, contractors, and providers work to resolve these billing issues.”

“No veteran should have their credit rating hurt because of delayed Veterans Choice Program payments, that’s completely unacceptable to me. In many cases, veterans are already using the Choice Program because they’ve endured a long wait time to be treated. We shouldn’t destroy their finances on top of that,” said Congressman Delaney. “Credit ratings fundamentally impact the cost of major purchases and can alter a family’s financial trajectory. The Protecting Veterans’ Credit Act creates the time needed to protect a veterans’ financial health while the actual parties responsible for the payments process and pay their medical bills.”

“Enough veterans have faced collateral damage from delays at the VA—their credit score shouldn’t be another casualty of this bureaucracy,” said Congressman Hultgren. “Veterans and their families deserve accurate and timely billing and reimbursements from the VA. They should not be held liable for the VA’s problems. We need quick action on this legislation to ensure our veterans aren’t held responsible for bureaucratic ineptitude.”

The Protecting Veterans Credit Act (H.R. 5593)

The Problem

Enacted in 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Choice Program provides veterans with the ability to receive medical care in a non-VA facility if the VA cannot schedule an appointment within a specified time period or if the veteran lives more than 40 miles from the closest VA medical facility. Unfortunately, there have been issues with the implementation of the program, including delayed Choice Program payments and inappropriately assigned bills to veterans.

Because of delays and incorrectly assigned bills, veterans have received adverse actions on their credit reports and inappropriate debt collection efforts.

Adverse credit action makes it more difficult and more expensive for a person to get a home mortgage or an auto loan or even to rent an apartment.

To address these issues, the VA set up a call center for veterans to contact the VA to resolve debt collection and adverse credit reporting. As of the end of May, the VA handled over 7100 inbound telephone calls.

While the VA is actively trying to reform the Choice Program, veterans need immediate and retroactive relief from erroneous credit reporting actions and debt collection efforts. No veteran should have their credit score hurt or be harassed by debt collectors because of a delay in the VA or their private contractor paying the bills.

The Solution

The Protecting Veterans’ Credit Act delays medical debt from medical services received through the Choice Program from being reported to credit reporting agencies for one year. This delay provides adequate time for the VA and its contractors to resolve the issues, while retaining a route for resolution of any co-payments or other obligations.

The bill provides a mechanism for veterans to easily dispute adverse actions already on their reports. Additionally, the bill requires debt collectors to provide the veteran with written information of their rights and who they can contact to resolve an issue.

Benefits

By instituting a one year grace period, it will allow for the multiple parties involved in the Choice Program time to process the payments, so the veterans receive the care they need, the doctors are fairly compensated, and veterans don’t suffer a credit loss for something that isn’t their fault.

Ensures veterans are not unnecessarily pressured into paying bills that they do not owe.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, House Armed Services Committee and House Committee on Agriculture.

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