According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”), Palm Beach County, Florida is home to more than 112,000 veterans – many of which are potential victims of scammers who prey on elderly and disable veterans.
U.S. Representatives Tom Rooney (R-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and Ron Barber (D-AZ) aim to discourage unscrupulous people from victimizing veterans with the introduction of the Protecting Veterans Pensions Act (“Pensions Act”). The Pensions Act is bipartisan legislation intended to strengthen the VA’s pension program and combat scam artists that target veterans.
One goal of the Pensions Act is to address a common scam in which unethical individuals and firms promise to help elderly and disabled veterans meet the net worth requirements for receiving VA pension benefits by diverting their assets into trusts or annuities. The trusts and annuities often leave the veterans without access to adequate financial resources, while the firms profit from the outrageous fees they charge and from persuading veterans to purchase additional, unnecessary and costly services.
According to a Government Accountability Office report, there are more than 200 companies marketing financial services to veterans to help them qualify for VA pensions by diverting their assets into trusts and annuities. Of those 200 companies, many have official-sounding names to make it appear they are affiliated with the VA, when they are not.
Currently, the VA only considers a veteran’s net worth at the time the veteran applies for benefits. As such, the VA is unable to determine if assets were intentionally diverted in order for the veteran to qualify for benefits. The Pensions Act would expand the VA’s review period to the prior three-year period so the VA could determine if asserts had been diverted.
According to the American Legion, another popular scam is one in which disreputable financial consultants offer to submit claims for benefits on behalf of veterans or their widows. The consultants scare the veterans into hiring them by warning them that if they try to submit a claim on their own, it could contain a mistake and they would have to wait an entire year to re-file.
According to the American Legion, one of the most egregious cons is one in which scammers get veterans to sign contracts guaranteeing them the first benefit check as payment for their services. What most veterans don’t know is that instead of a check of about $2,000, the first check issued by the VA may be for as much as $24,000 (12 months-worth of payments) because of the typical one year time it takes to process a claim.
These scammers rely on the fact that most veterans don’t know that it is illegal to charge a veteran for help with filing a claim for VA benefits. Other scammers promise free help with the intention of selling the veteran other unnecessary and exorbitantly priced services that they say will help the veteran qualify for additional VA benefits.
Veterans who need help applying for benefits are encouraged to call the Palm Beach County Veterans Services at (561) 355-4761 or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at (202) 273-5400.