After a handicapped Queens veteran was faced with a retroactive $24,000 fine due to a Veterans Affairs error, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) helped waive the levies, preventing the 75 year-old Korean War soldier from falling into debt as he struggles to meet basic cost of living and medical expenses.
Middle Village veteran Anthony Novak said, "This is such a huge weight lifted, I couldn't be happier. It was simply impossible for me to pay this debt. I thank Senator Gillibrand for all her help."
Mr. Novak's 28 year-old daughter Jennifer said, "My father has never lived an extravagant life. He served his country honorably and just wants a fair shake, nothing more. I am relieved and grateful that Senator Gillibrand helped resolve this issue."
Senator Gillibrand said, "It is unfair to punish our veterans, levying debt that would strip them of their basic standard of living. A Queens soldier struggling to make ends meet should not have to pay such a heavy price. Now, Mr. Novak no longer has to carry this burden."
Mr. Novak, who regularly attended the Middle Village and Forest Hills Veterans Day parades, has experienced severe ailments, undergoing major heart surgery and treatment for throat, bladder and skin cancer, including having his voicebox replaced with a speaking apparatus.
In 2009, the Korean war combat veteran received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) stating that he owed more than $24,000 in overpayments. Worried over Mr. Novak's chronic doctor and hospital visits and his struggle to meet monthly rent, food, and basic expenses, his daughter, Jennifer, reached out to Senator Gillibrand's office to investigate why he owed money and why his veteran pension was cut off. Over the past decade, his daughter noted, Mr. Novak's veteran benefits dwindled until he ended up receiving nothing at all.
After Senator Gillibrand's inquiry, the agency said they realized that in 2007, Mr. Novak's Social Security payments had increased to roughly $1000 per month between 2001 and 2007, which exceeded the VA's monthly income cap to qualify for their estimated $800 per month pension. The VA, realizing that it failed to decrease his monthly pension during this period, terminated Mr. Novak's VA payments two years later in 2009 and slapped the 75 year-old with a retroactive debt of $24,000.
Gillibrand's office urged the VA to reconsider the debt given the Queens vet's poor health and financial hardship. VA recently decided to waive the debt, nearly a year after Gillibrand's office first worked on this case.
Since then, the VA has instituted a process of regularly checking both the veterans' Social Security benefits and their VA pension to ensure that veterans are not wrongfully overpaid and do not end up with an exorbitant amount of debt.