The Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) has a Claims Program.
Despite its existence and the forum it enables for service members to receive forgiveness of debts for overpayment, the process is not self-evident. Countless calls from clients how poured hours into research did not yield a clear path for applying.
The Claims Division includes a Claims Appeals Board and works to settle general claims by or against individuals and businesses. Most of these claims stem from Section 3702, Title 31, United States Code. The Claims Division considers appeals of claims for uniformed services pay and allowances (including travel, transportation, retired pay and survivor’s benefits).
The Claims Division also considers initial requests that exceed a certain dollar amount, and appeals of requests under that amount, by individuals who are seeking to keep funds that were paid to them by error on the part of the government. These funds can be for overage on pay or for excess allowances they received.
DOHA has an appellate mission. Initial work must be filed through the responsible paying office (e.g., the Defense Finance and Accounting Service within the Department of Defense (DoD)), and not directly with the Claims Division.
Oral hearings are not available, which means that appeal decisions and requests for reconsideration are based only on the written submissions.
Under 10 U.S.C. § 2774, DOHA has the authority to waive collection of erroneous payments of pay and allowances if collection would be against equity and good conscience and not in the best interest of the United States, provided there is no indication of fraud, misrepresentation, fault or lack of good faith on the part of the member.
Part of what demonstrates good faith is showing that the member made efforts to correct the overpayment. This means that there is a burden by the member receiving the overpayment to notify the government there was a mistake. Another method is for the member to set aside and to save the overpaid monies.
Without doing both, a member potentially faces larceny or fraud allegations, including potential a court-martial. Since about 2015, task forces in the various military law enforcement branches probe for fraudulently collected housing allowance, in particular, and with a specific emphasis on monies collected for members overseas or whose dependents collect housing entitlements for high paying zip codes.
Firm resources enable us to make applications on behalf of the member to allow the member to potentially keep the overage in pay and / or allowances. These efforts are different from those to keep military member from facing criminal liability for the same collection.
Each application for debt forgiveness are viewed independently and based on the particular facts of each case. An attorney who is well versed in successful petitions at DOHA can maximize a client’s chances for successful outcome, though understandably all cases are unique.
DOHA possesses significant authority to solve errors in pay where the member has tried to correct the issues at lower levels. Not every case qualifies for debt forgiveness but few ever try. We surmise that despite the power DOHA shoulders, not many lawyers know this is an avenue for military uniformed clients.
Contact the Firm for an assessment whether any overages resulting in a “debt” on your Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) are good candidates for forgiveness.