Like any company, the Department of Defense makes mistakes. Sometimes, servicemembers are overpaid. But when trying to recover that extra money that showed up in a servicemember’s paycheck, the DoD’s debt collection efforts are falling short of what they are supposed to be doing, according to a report issued last week by the Government Accountability Office.
The report found that key pieces of information about how the debt may be repaid are being left out of the letters that are sent to servicemembers, and servicemembers may not be receiving notifications that fully inform them of their rights and protections.
Branches of the military are not consistently following the DoD’s debt collection regulations, leading to instances where servicemembers are not being notified about the debt, their right to dispute it, or the consequences of inaction, according to the GAO.
The report lays out five recommendations for the Department of Defense to update its practices, including:
- Revise the debt notification letter to include all required information
- Update regulations to state whether and when collection activity may be suspended if a debt is disputed
- Review all policies and procedures for outdated information
Of a sample of 49 collection letters reviewed by the GAO, 45 of them did not contain all of the required information. From the report:
- Forty-three letters did not include a statement that amounts will be promptly refunded for amounts paid by or deducted from the service member that are later waived or found not to be owed.
- Forty-two letters did not advise the service member that if the requested review was granted, the service member had the right to receive a written decision within 60 days of filing the request.
- Twelve letters did not advise the service member of the right to inspect and copy DOD records related to the debt.
- Nine letters did not state the intention to collect the debt from the service member by means of payroll deductions (salary offset) if payment was not received within 30 days of letter issuance.
- Eight letters did not include a statement regarding the right to request a remission of the debt.
- Seven letters did not include a statement that if the service member wished to dispute the existence or amount of the debt, the service member had the right to submit a written request for review.
- Six letters did not include a statement regarding the right to request a waiver of the debt.