Please read the article below and then contact your Senators regarding S.2536: ‘A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to prohibit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from collecting certain debts to the United States in the case of veterans who die as a result of a service-connected disability incurred or aggravated on active duty in a combat zone, and for other purposes.
Please pass this e-mail along to all who care that our service members are giving their lives for their country without their families having to sacrifice any more than they already have due to the loss of their loved one.
Link to the bill and to contact your Senators: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/issues/bills/?billtype=S.&billnumb=2536&congress=110
Bill would clear vets’ estates of VA debt
By Rick Maze – Staff writer Posted : Wednesday Jan 23, 2008 11:17:57 EST
A bill that would block the Department of Veterans Affairs from trying to collect money from the estates of service members who die in combat was introduced Tuesday by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
Her bill, S 2536, applies only to debts to the VA, and not to money owed to private-sector creditors or other federal agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service.
Hutchison is asking Senate leaders for quick passage of the bill, hoping to bypass the normal process in which new bills are sent to committee for consideration.
She could get high-level support. VA Secretary Dr. James Peake is expected to write a letter to the Senate endorsing her call for expedited passage of the bill, according to Senate sources.
VA officials said they supported the bill but did not confirm that Peake would write a letter.
Waiving normal procedures would require the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, on which Hutchison serves, to allow the bill to proceed without its involvement. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, the veterans’ affairs committee chairman, would have to approve the move. Akaka aides said the committee staff would study the measure first.
Few people die owing VA money, but Hutchison aides found that VA has collected more than $56,000 from the families of 22 deceased soldiers, mostly National Guard and reserve members called to active duty who received overpayments of GI Bill education benefits.
Her bill would be retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001, allowing families or estates that paid a debt to VA to receive a refund of any payment made since that date.
Hutchison spokesman Matt Mackowiak said few people may be affected, but Hutchison considers it improper for any family of a service member who dies in combat to be contacted with a demand for money.
Current law requires contacting a family or estate if there is any outstanding debt to VA at the time of death. A family has 180 days to file a grievance, with the VA secretary permitted to waive the debts.
“This bill is about honoring our fallen heroes by treating the families they left behind with dignity and by showing them we mean it when we tell them our nation is truly grateful,” Hutchison said in a statement. “The fact that VA is forced to collect a few hundred dollars from bereaved mothers and fathers for something as simple as a small debt for education benefits is ludicrous.”
Of the 22 cases, three involved Texans, Hutchison aides said. One was an Army soldier killed by a sniper while on his third tour to Iraq whose family repaid the government for a $389 overpayment of GI Bill benefits.
The family of another Army soldier was billed for $2,282 in outstanding loans after the sergeant, who was married with four children, was killed in an explosion on his second tour in Iraq. The third Texas case involved a Marine Reservist killed by an explosion in Iraq who owed VA $845.
Hutchison aides said their review found similar cases in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.
Link to article: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2008/01/military_veteransestates_080122w/
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