Debt letters are showing up at military spouse teachers’ homes around the world. The Department of Defense Education Activity or DoDEA, has been issuing debt letters for debts accumulated during a military spouse’s time teaching in the DoDEA system.
These debts are often inaccurate or completely unsubstantiated and they can come years after leaving the DoDEA system.
Being a military spouse comes with plenty of challenges. Finding and keeping employment is one of the biggest challenges. Many military spouses are unemployed or underemployed.
Choosing a portable career is important and teaching professions are one of the top fields military spouses work in. DoDEA schools are rumored to be excellent work environments.
Once you are in the DoDEA system, moving with your spouse and finding a teaching position becomes easier. You don’t have to get a new state license to teach with them each time you PCS. They also offer relocation assistance and competitive salaries.
One surprising thing many military spouses have discovered is that working for the DoDEA can also lead to debt, even before you start working for them.
M.J. Allen found this out the hard way. While waiting for her paperwork to be approved to begin a job, she started receiving debt letters. After going around in circles with them, she learned that she had been put on the school’s payroll even though she had not started teaching and they wanted their nonexistent money back.
Many military spouse teachers report receiving similar debt letters.
It’s become a running joke among DoDEA teachers that you don’t truly work for them until you’ve received debt letters. Why are military spouses not standing up to this?
Some choose to pay the debt off while others tangle with debt collectors. If you are one of the teachers that have received debt letters, know that someone is working on your side to fight this.
The Federal Education Association (FEA) is working on military spouse teachers’ behalf to crack down on these erroneous claims. They recommend all DoDEA teachers routinely check their LES, making sure their pay is correct. Keeping up with your pay and any deductions is important. These debt letters can come years down the road, even after you’ve left the DoDEA system.
There are a few things to pay particular attention to on your LES (Leave and Earnings Statement) because even though it is illegal, the DFAS routinely deducts money from DoDEA employees. They have been known to deduct funds even if the debt has already been paid back.
You can invoke your rights under the Debt Collection Act, Back Pay Act, and Negotiated Agreement but that still might not stop them from taking back your money or sending debt letters.
Be vigilant and check your LES for these things:
- a negative amount in the “retroactive earnings” section
- a notice on your LES of “debt deduction”
- a note of “indebtedness” in the “Remarks” section
If you do find these things or receive debt letters, don’t pay them right away. The burden of proof of debt is on the government. You can seek help from the FEA.
Don’t be a military spouse that simply pays the debt off. Debt letters might just find their way to your mailbox again.
Many military spouses are outraged by this breakdown in DoDEA. Working for them can be mentally rewarding, but receiving debt letters can be tolling.
Don’t let your desire to teach turn into a debt headache that can last for years. Be vigilant in watching your pay and stand up for your rights if you do receive debt letters.