The other day a gentleman who’d read my bankruptcy blog about veterans’ benefits shared with me that he was being sued over medical bills, asking whether filing bankruptcy could help him avoid going to court over those bills. My work as a bankruptcy lawyer in Indiana over these twenty-four years has increasingly involved medical bills, and the thing I wanted to stress to this reader was how important it was to make the bankruptcy filing happen before he received a court summons. That’s because, once a summons is received, if the debtor fails to show up, the judge could actually decide to put him in jail for failure to appear.
There are two things about this blog reader’s situation that are important. First, while the state of Indiana has several important programs in place to help veterans and their families, including job retraining, physical and occupational rehabilitation programs, housing and education grants, it’s still the case that many veterans experience severe financial difficulties after returning from the service. And, in many of those cases, the debt is medically related. In one of my earliest blogs, Medical Debt Can Be Dangerous To Your Health, I explained how sad it is that many medical bankruptcies involve relatively small amounts of money. The reason small claims courts are swamped with medical debt lawsuits is that hospitals and doctors, in many cases, turn their delinquent accounts over to debt collection agencies, often within just a month or two of the bill coming due! Small debts are less likely to be “written off” nowadays, and collection agencies will often aggressively pursue these court cases in order to collect the large number of small debts.
Filing bankruptcy is serious business, and every individual needs to carefully consider all the options. But it’s absolutely crucial for anyone whose debt is piling up, particularly if that includes medical debt, to talk with an experienced bankruptcy attorney as quickly as possible. Think about it – For any debtor, having his or her financial health endangered while he/she’s fighting to regain physical health is such a difficult challenge. To me, it’s especially heartbreaking when someone who’s endangered life and health to serve our country is in that situation. This may be one time where going slow and being deliberate are not the smartest strategies for debtors.