SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today led a multistate coalition of 22 attorneys general in submitting a letter urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to suspend benefits claims deadlines and debt collection activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the current situation, unemployment has skyrocketed and veterans are losing their jobs, making it difficult for them to make debt payments. In the letter, the coalition argues that the VA’s continued enforcement of these deadlines and collections is putting veterans in financial danger and increasing their risk of losing essential VA benefits that they rely on for basic necessities – such as food and housing.
“Today I am urging the VA to suspend benefits deadlines and debt collection activities for our distinguished veterans,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our veterans, who have sacrificed everything for our country, should not have additional financial trouble to worry about during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Almost half of all U.S. veterans are over 65 years old, and the aging population is at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and suffering serious health consequences or dying. The attorneys general argue that because the VA is closed to in-person claims assistance, veterans are forced to face significant barriers on their own. These barriers include the burden of gathering evidence to meet claims deadlines; lack of access to electronic means of claims submission; and a lack of access to veterans organizations and attorneys. Additionally, most of the country is subject to a stay-at-home order, making it nearly impossible for veterans to get the help that they need. The coalition urges the VA to suspend all claims deadlines and issue a moratorium on collection activities for benefits overpayments and other debt.
Attorney General Becerra supports strong consumer protections for our nation’s veterans and their families. In May 2019, Attorney General Becerra submitted a letter urging the Department of Education to discharge the student loans of tens of thousands of veterans who were disabled as part of their service. That same month, he also secured a $1.8 million settlement against a deceptive charity, Help the Vets, Inc., for claiming their charity helped veterans when, in fact, almost none of the funds went towards veteran assistance. In April 2018, Attorney General Becerra filed criminal charges against 38 individuals for allegedly defrauding the VA out of $4.3 million. In December 2018, Attorney General Becerra announced the sentencing of Ramil “Randy” Abalkhad, owner of Romano’s Jewelers, for felony conspiracy to engage in illegal financing and debt collection practices targeting sailors and marines in San Diego.
In submitting today's letter, Attorney General Becerra was joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
A copy of the letter can be found here.