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The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently come under criticism for delivering enormous bills to veterans for alleged debt on overpayment. Many veterans are now struggling to understand why they owe what they owe.
Vice News explained the difficulty faced by veterans who try to contest the debt as they navigate the complicated bureaucracy of the VA through the story of Tad Steckler, a man who has been receiving disability benefits checks from the department since 2009. Steckler retired from the Army at 40, with a Soldier’s Medal for heroism. He lives with his third wife, Robyn Loveland, and her two kids in Nebraska.
In June of 2016, Loveland opened the mail to find a bill for $10,000 from the VA. The enclose letter stated that they’d be withholding Steckler’s disability check until he paid the balance on what they believed to be thousands of dollars given to him in error since 2009. Over the next few months, as Steckler and Loveland attempted to understand the source of the debt, Steckler’s PTSD symptoms recurred under the stress of communicating with the VA. In August, they went to a regional benefits office where representatives told them the debt had been miscalculated: they actually owed $21,604.32.
The source of the issue seems to be that Steckler’s ex-wife’s children were still listed as dependents after his divorce. Though he did ask to have them removed, the VA failed to do so. The VA calculated the debt by retroactively removing the money for those dependents, but they went back years farther than when Steckler stopped living with them. These kinds of mix up and confusion are apparently common:
Some veterans argue it’s hard to prove they were paid what they deserved when dealing with the bureaucratic processes at the VA and their inability to get clear information from the agency. “VA is so fragmented that it is almost impossible to correct an error in the underlying facts before VA turns the case over for collection,” said Douglas Rosinski, a lawyer who represents veterans. “If the underlying facts are incorrect, which they are in many instances, it is nearly impossible to jump through all the legal hoops to appeal the determination before VA executes its recovery action.”
In September, Steckler and Loveland set up a five-year plan to pay back the VA in which around $360 would be deducted from his disability check per month, but it’s a frustrating solution as the family’s appeal is still pending.
“If we owe, then we owe,” said Steckler to Vice News, “We get it. But can you show me what I owe and how? I don’t know any businesses that would get away with something like this.”