Letter to Editor: Protecting our nation’s veterans

To the editor:

It’s no secret that the mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been hampered by scandal and mismanagement for years. One untold story is the damage done to veterans’ credit scores while the VA refuses to address billing issues between the VA Community Care Programs and their service providers such as HealthNet and TriWest. Veterans in my district are the collateral damage of this bungled reimbursement mess.

“Veterans should not have to worry about creditors hassling them for an issue that is wholly the VA bureaucracy’s responsibility,” Jacob Zimmerman, Superintendent of the Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission, told me.

I introduced bipartisan legislation, the Protecting Veterans Credit Act (H.R. 2863), to provide credit score protections for veterans who choose to participate in the VA’s Community Care Programs, such as the Choice Program. For veterans receiving such medical treatment, the debt from the VA’s late or nonpayment is in their name, but it is not their responsibility. When payments are not made, credit bureaus then include the adverse medical debt information on credit reports, thus lowering veterans’ credit scores. In fact, when I demanded information from the VA last year, I learned this could be true for hundreds of thousands who served our country.

My bill delays medical debt received through the VA’s Community Care Programs from being reported to credit bureaus for one year and provides a mechanism for veterans to easily dispute adverse reporting. The American Legion recently testified before the House Committee on Financial Services on which I sit that if my bill became law, “Veterans will no longer require assistance from attorneys and pay fees to resolve an issue they had no role in creating.”

Our country’s consumer credit reporting system needs a number of reforms. But protecting veterans should be the top priority.