WASHINGTON – The Veterans Affairs Department’s problems in providing health care are well known – poor care, long wait times for treatment, VA facilities far from home. A program to fix the long drives to VA centers by allowing veterans to see private doctors has created a new problem for vets – bad credit ratings.

Some Maryland vets are joining in a chorus of complaints nationwide that the VA’s long delay in paying the private doctors is ruining their credit scores.

Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., is leading an effort in Congress to find a solution for the veterans.

He and several other House members of both parties sent a letter to the VA Secretary David Shulkin on Monday asking the VA to fix problems with late payments for veterans using private doctors under the Veterans Choice Program. The late VA reimbursements are hurting veterans’ credit, even though the department is responsible for paying for their medical expenses. Because the bills are not paid promptly, they become overdue debts that have the veterans’ names on them so the delinquency is ascribed to the vets.

Delaney said the negative credit reports hurt veterans most when they try to buy a house or car.

The issue was brought to Delaney office’s attention from veterans speaking up at workshops around Maryland hosted by Delaney’s office. He said he has heard from vets that it takes six months to a year for the VA to pay their doctors’ bills.
Disabled American Veterans-Department of Maryland Commander Betty Brown has heard the same timetable from veterans who call the branch to complain about their unpaid bills.

“What’s happened with the VA is obviously an abomination, and there’s a lot of problems with the VA,” Delaney said. “But the fact that there are delays in paying our veterans seems unfair. I wanted to make a point that this is something that needs to be fixed.”

In the letter to Shulkin, the House members asked if the VA was aware of the problem and if so, what is the current time lag on average for payment. Shulkin has received the letter and will respond to the representatives directly, a spokesman said.

Shulkin has said delays in payments generally are the result of bad VA technology.

“It takes more than 30 days to process 20 percent of our clean claims at VA, and that affects about 25,000 providers across the country,” Shulkin said in a press briefing on May 31. “In addition, we have about $50 million in out-patient bill charges that are six months or older. As of April this year, only 65 percent of our claims are handled electronically. That’s far below what you’d find in the private sector.”

The Veterans Choice Program pays for vets to visit private doctors when the driving distance from home to the nearest VA facility is at least 40 miles. It began in April 2014 under The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 signed by President Barack Obama.

In addition to pushing the VA to pay vets’ medical bills more promptly Delaney also sponsored ta measure that would give a one-year grace period delaying the inclusion of unpaid medical bills in veterans’ credit reports.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, there are 414, 879 vets in Maryland.