(a) In accordance with the procedures set forth in 31 U.S.C. 3720D and 31 CFR 285.11, VA or Treasury may request that a non-Federal employer garnish the disposable pay of an individual to collect delinquent non-tax debt owed to VA. VA may pursue wage garnishment independently in accordance with this section or VA or Treasury may pursue garnishment after VA refers a debt to Treasury in accordance with § 1.910 of this part and 31 CFR 285.12. For the purposes of this section, any reference to Treasury also includes any private collection agency under contract to Treasury.
(b) At least 30 days prior to the initiation of garnishment proceedings, VA or Treasury shall send a written notice, as described in 31 CFR 285.11(e), by first class mail to the debtor's last known address. This notice shall inform the debtor of:
(1) The nature and amount of the debt;
(2) The intention of VA or Treasury to initiate proceedings to collect the debt through deductions from the debtor's pay until the debt and all accumulated interest, and other late payment charges, are paid in full, and;
(3) An explanation of the debtor's rights, including the opportunity:
(i) To inspect and copy VA records pertaining to the debt;
(ii) To enter into a written repayment agreement with VA or Treasury under terms agreeable to VA or Treasury, and;
(iii) To a hearing in accordance with 31 CFR 285.11(f) and paragraph (c) of this section concerning the existence or amount of the debt or the terms of the proposed repayment schedule under the garnishment order. However, the debtor is not entitled to a hearing concerning the terms of the proposed repayment schedule if these terms have been established by written agreement under paragraph (b)(3)(ii) of this section.
(c) Any hearing conducted as part of the administrative wage garnishment process shall be conducted by the designated hearing official in accordance with the procedures set forth in 31 CFR 285.11(f). This hearing official may be any VA hearing official. This hearing official may also conduct administrative wage garnishment hearings for other Federal agencies.
(1) The hearing may be oral or written as determined by the designated hearing official. The hearing official shall provide the debtor with a reasonable opportunity for an oral hearing when the hearing official determines that the issue in dispute cannot be resolved by review of documentary evidence, for example, when the validity of the claim turns on the issue of credibility or veracity. The hearing official shall establish the time and place of any oral hearing. At the debtor's option, an oral hearing may be conducted either in person or by telephone conference call. A hearing is not required to be a formal, evidentiary-type hearing, but witnesses who testify in oral hearings must do so under oath or affirmation. While it is not necessary to produce a transcript of the hearing, the hearing official must maintain a summary record of the proceedings. All travel expenses incurred by the debtor in connection with an in-person hearing shall be borne by the debtor. VA or Treasury shall be responsible for all telephone expenses. In the absence of good cause shown, a debtor who fails to appear at a hearing will be deemed as not having timely filed a request for a hearing.
(2) If the hearing official determines that an oral hearing is not necessary, then he/she shall afford the debtor a “paper hearing.” In a “paper hearing,” the hearing official will decide the issues in dispute based upon a review of the written record.
(3) If the debtor's written request for a hearing is received by either VA or Treasury within 15 business days following the mailing of the notice described in paragraph (b) of this section, then VA or Treasury shall not issue a withholding order as described in paragraph (d) of this section until the debtor is afforded the requested hearing and a decision rendered. If the debtor's written request for a hearing is not received within 15 business days following the mailing of the notice described in paragraph (b) of this section, then the hearing official shall provide a hearing to the debtor, but will not delay issuance of a withholding order as described in paragraph (d) of this section, unless the hearing official determines that the delay in filing was caused by factors beyond the debtor's control.
(4) The hearing official shall notify the debtor of:
(i) The date and time of a telephone conference hearing;
(ii) The date, time, and location of an in-person oral hearing, or;
(iii) The deadline for the submission of evidence for a written hearing.
(5) Except as provided in paragraph (c)(6)of this section, VA or Treasury shall have the burden of going forward to prove the existence or amount of the debt, after which the debtor must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that no debt exists or that the amount of the debt is incorrect. In general, this means that the debtor must show that it is more likely than not that a debt does not exist or that the amount of the debt is incorrect. The debtor may also present evidence that terms of the repayment agreement are unlawful, would cause a financial hardship, or that collection of the debt may not be pursued due to operation of law.
(6) If the debtor has previously contested the existence and/or amount of the debt in accordance with § 1.911(c)(1) or § 1.911a(c)(1) and VA subsequently rendered a decision upholding the existence or amount of the debt, then such decision shall be incorporated by reference and become the basis of the hearing official's decision on such matters.
(7) The hearing official shall issue a written decision as soon as practicable, but not later than 60 days after the date on which the request for such hearing was received by VA or Treasury. The decision will be the final action for the purposes of judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 701et seq. ). The decision shall include:
(i) A summary of the facts presented;
(ii) The hearing official's findings, analysis, and conclusions, and;
(iii) The terms of the repayment schedule, if applicable.
(d) In accordance with 31 CFR 285.11(g) and (h), VA or Treasury shall send a Treasury-approved withholding order and certification form by first class mail to the debtor's employer within 30 days after the debtor fails to make a timely request for a hearing. If a timely request for a hearing has been filed by the debtor, then VA or Treasury shall send a withholding order and certification form by first class mail to the debtor's employer within 30 days after a final decision is made to proceed with the garnishment. The employer shall complete and return the certification form as described in 31 CFR 285.11(h).
(e) After receipt of the garnishment order, the employer shall withhold the amount of garnishment as described in 31 CFR 285.11(i) from all disposable pay payable to the applicable debtor during each pay period.
(f) A debtor whose wages are subject to a wage withholding order under 31 CFR 285.11 may request a review, under the procedures set forth in 31 CFR 285.11(k), of the amount garnished. A request for review shall only be considered after garnishment has been initiated. The request must be based on materially changed circumstances such as disability, divorce, or catastrophic illness which result in financial hardship that limit the debtor's ability to provide food, housing, clothing, transportation, and medical care for himself/herself and his/her dependents.