Scammers targeting veterans' pensions
WASHINGTON — They target retirement communities, fete veterans with free lunch at Red Lobster and make harassing phone calls — all to get their hands on veterans' pension benefits.
The scammers have been so crafty and pervasive that members of Congress are making a bipartisan push to change the pension eligibility requirements to discourage people from victimizing veterans.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney's bill would create a three-year “look-back period,” meaning suspicious transfers of money — such as payments to potential cheats — would be grounds for denying a claim. Without a look-back period for examining asset transfers, it's easier for veterans to qualify — but also harder for them to avoid scams.
Later in the article it says that:
Rooney teamed with the American Legion, which had launched an effort to compile information on the growing scams.
In June, American Legion representatives testified before a congressional committee. Lori Perkio, assistant director of the legion's division of veterans affairs and rehabilitation, recounted scams across the country.
In Florida, she said, American Legion officers have found a growing number of elder- care lawyers contacting veterans directly through assisted living facilities, promising to divert income and assets to help them qualify for VA pensions. Many of these attorneys tried to acquire power of attorney from the veterans.
I went back and got Ms Perkio's testimony, and found all kinds of examples. From her testimony:
- In Alabama - a veteran and his wife were contacted regarding assistance with a local assisted living facility. They were told the $800,000 in savings would be “diverted” to allow them to qualify for VA Aid and Attendance benefits. This couple contacted the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs for clarification and did not follow through with the application for Aid and Attendance understanding they did not qualify for the pension benefit.
- In California – an organization provided assistance to a veteran promising assistance to file a claim for Aid and Attendance benefits to live in an assisted living facility. The veteran was told he had to pay $1700 in advance to complete the paperwork in order to receive a monthly benefit of $1800.
- In Montana - The daughter of a veteran was working with an agency that provided a seminar at the local assisted living facility which promised assistance to veterans and surviving spouses of war time veterans in obtaining Veterans Affairs Aid and Attendance benefits. The daughter contacted the Montana Veterans Affairs Division requesting clarification of the VA program. The company providing the assistance told her she needed to divert her father’s assets and made an appointment for her to meet with a financial advisor who was over a hundred miles away.
- In Florida – American Legion service officers have run across a growing number of lawyers specializing in elder law who contact veterans directly through assisted living facilities (ALFs) with promises of how to divert income and assets to qualify for VA pension. Many of these attorneys do not provide follow up assistance with the ultimate pension claims process. All of these lawyers work to appoint themselves as powers of attorney for the veterans, initiating an additional problem when the veterans ultimately seek the assistance needed from Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) as the process to change the power of attorney for the veteran to allow the VSO to advocate on behalf of the veteran’s claim can add as much as an additional month to the claims process.
- Also in Florida – many of these organizations provide “briefings” at ALFs in which they portray VA pension as a “secret government benefit” they can provide to the veterans. In order to utilize the benefit, they make it appear the veterans must divert their assets into financial instruments run by their companies. Most of these cases involve “helping” the veteran to file for pension, but there is little follow up aid as many of these organizations are actually unfamiliar with the intricacies of VA pension eligibility and therefore they cannot provide accurate information to the veterans about how to best proceed with their claim.
- Service officers in the northern Midwest report issues with organizations cold-calling veterans and charging nearly $500 for “assistance” with pension benefits, and taking credit card information from the veterans over the phone.
- Other Florida veterans have complained of persons “representing them” for as much as $6,000 up front with a percentage of any eventual back payment from the VA as a portion of the ultimate fee.
- One attorney bragged in his own newsletter of “earning over $200,000 helping people receive VA benefits.”
- Even simple internet searches reveal dozens of organizations outright promising “how to hide assets to receive VA pension”
There was apparently a great moment in the testimony before the Congress where one of the people engaged in these predatory practices got called out. I am trying to find the transcript right now.
OOOOF. Here is the video. Fast forward to 1:07:00 and see how uncomfortable this was. Seriously, unbearably awkward.