The VA Massively Screws Up
By Thom Stoddert and Bill Milford
I mean, the VA really without a doubt has massively screwed up, as they have allowed/enabled a major national system of fraud to victimize elderly veterans and their widows. The questions that are left over and begging to be answered are why was it allowed, and why is it taking so long to deal with it? This massive industry of fraud the VA has unleashed is now eating away at the VA’s resources and punishing veterans.
It all started when the VA allowed lawyers, financial planners and others to submit claims on behalf of veterans, along with the tried and trusted, traditional service organizations. They call themselves Veteran Service Providers (VSPs), not having a fully chartered accreditation with the VA (i.e. they paid for a license); and they are not concerned about the veteran’s best interests. Now the greedy and the unprincipled members of the business community saw money and an easy opportunity to be enriched, regardless of what it did to the veteran community. Now thousands of business-people and companies are claiming to be advocates with fancy names while holding out carrots on the end of sticks, promising free money, help with making claims, and/or information on “little known” VA benefits.
These ethically challenged members of the business community focus exclusively on the VA’s benefit of Pension (and Aid/Attendance). The VA’s Pension program that was enacted into law was intended so that impoverished veterans and their widows could receive some level of income to support their need for a comfortable, worry free life for the years they have left. The requirements begin with veterans needing to have wartime service, meaning they have served 90 days with at least one day during a period of war and have an honorable discharge. Next they must meet the requirements of VA law that considers veteran/spouse needs, income, and net financial worth.
The Pension program can become a problem when trying to figure out financial worth. Generally the veteran and/or widow cannot have more than $80,000 in liquid assets (excluding the home till it is sold and then it becomes net worth). Remember this program is for impoverished veterans, not for the rest of us. For the sake of ease, disregard the VA’s terms such as “new” or “improved” pension when they use them, it’s only a matter of unneeded descriptions.
The subject of Aid and Attendance is extensively used by these so-called advocates to market what they have to offer, or make money on. Aid and Attendance is just a level, an added supplement to an already existing benefit that has been awarded. It is not a benefit program as these businesses often try to indicate; it is just a higher level of payment made to recipients of Non-Service Connected Pension, Disability Compensation, and Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
Once a claimant has been awarded one the three benefit programs listed above, they can receive higher levels of payment, such as Housebound and Aid and Attendance. These two levels must have the medical evidence to support the VA in granting them. Thus the need for a true advocate of a federally chartered service organization to assist you is essential, someone that knows how the VA grants this benefit based on experience and the study of VA law.
The Housebound level is just what is says. The claimant is pretty much confined to their place of residence. Aid and Attendance is awarded when the medical evidence shows the need for a higher level of skilled medical supervision. The details are all on the VA’s website in easy to understand wording. To put more into it only causes confusion.
Here is where the VA has allowed veterans to be hurt. Unscrupulous business men and women have invented make-believe veteran advocacy groups, such as the Veterans Aid Association, the American Association of Wartime Veteran, the Veterans Benefit Association, and so on. They use organizations like these or go under their own name to find veterans so they can then qualify them for VA Pension.
If a veteran meets the requirements of wartime service and honorable discharge, but is over the limit for net worth, these business people are more than willing to assist the veteran to “protect their assets” while padding their pockets with upfront commissions. They do this by selling various insurances, annuities, irrevocable trusts, funeral plans, etc.
Often they work with elderly retirement facilities with various types of agreements/kick-backs. Using various methods the so-called “veteran service providers” while holding seminars imply they are advocates putting out the word about Pension/Aid and Attendance. They are not in the least interested in advocating for the claimant by supporting programs such as Disability Compensation or DIC for the widow, which can exceed the benefits of Pension. They are not interested in whether the veteran is involved in the VA healthcare system or has utilized any other benefits they may eligible for.
Why is working with one of these businesses so dangerous? The full answer contains far more issues than this article could begin to deal with at this time, except to say the victimization is profound and many are left truly impoverished and even homeless. For the mean time, just know that any one that “repositions” or “hides” assets to make the claimant look impoverished is not only putting the claimant at risk for repercussions down the line, but using up resources of the VA for those who are truly in need.
These business-people are right on the border of being illegal, but the veteran commits fraud when he or she receives money under a program not intended for them. If the VA finds out, repayment will be required. The next issue is Medicare; they have different rules that will cause an implosion when the veteran has repositioned their money. Finally, all too often a VA beneficiary may find they still need to supplement their income they receive from VA pension, Social Security, and other retirements, only to come to the cold realization that it is tied up in financial products, sold by these so-called VSP’s, that demand huge penalties for early withdrawals, or are not accessible when they need it.
Be aware of someone who is trying to bundle VA issues into financial products. Oil and water do not mix; neither do VA issues and business-people trying to earn an income. These businesses will provide financial planning, legal advice, and VA advocacy bundled together along with fees, some of which are in the thousands of dollars. Assistance with filing a claim is FREE. Federally chartered Veteran Service Organizations provide accredited service/claims representatives to assist in submitting a claim that meets the requirements of VA law. Find an ethical financial planner who provides services for a single fee only, not on a commission.
The VA did screw up and as a very wise attorney from Spokane, WA, Dick Sayre, is quick to point out, “There is a lot of money behind these schemes, don’t let them surprise you.” Many more details and case histories to follow in the coming months!