RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A warning from a local veteran who is paying huge fees on his VA medical bill because he was slow in paying off his initial bills.
He wants other vets to be aware that this could happen to them too.
Michael Butler is a Vietnam-era Navy Vet who ended up having four surgeries in five months at Durham’s VA hospital back in February of 2018.
Because the surgeries keep coming, he and his retired military nurse wife didn’t pay attention to notices that they owed money for his care.
“It all happened so fast—4 major surgeries in 5 months,” said Arleen Butler. “I wasn’t looking at bills. I wasn’t paying attention.”
“In our minds, you serve, you get taken care of and that’s part of the benefits.”
But, those benefits are proportional to the time you serve and Butler was only in the Navy for four years so he found out he owed more than he thought.
“If you serve a short time, you’re just another patient,” said Michael Butler.
By the time the Butler’s realized they owed the VA hospital money, the bills had piled up and the government wanted its money.
“If you don’t pay in four months, then they turn you over to the Department of Treasury and collection agencies,” said Arleen Butler.
The couple saw $500 balloon to over $800 because the government charges a 30 percent fee.
“I’ve called the Department of the Treasury several times and they said it’s not interest and penalties, it’s a onetime fee,” said Arleen.
In addition, the Department of the Treasury garnished Michael’s social security, taking $297 dollars a month from him.
“If you’re living on social security, it puts a damper on things making it hard for us to get by over the years,” said Michael Butler.
The collection agency also gets a 30 percent fee.
Arleen says over a year later, they are starting to get ahead on the bills.
“I’ve got the Treasury bill down to $273 and to the VA hospital in Durham I owe a little over $300.”
The couple says they aren’t complaining about paying for Michael’s medical care, but rather how they are being charged.
“I want them to stop charging their veterans 30 percent penalty on their bills,” said Arleen.
The VA says it does have programs for patients experiencing financial hardships. It offers a link to that plus other bill paying information here.
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