Veterans Benefits: How to Spot a Scam

veteran

For many years, military veterans have been thanked for their service through benefits offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (often referred to as the V.A.). Now, however, there are reports that some veterans seeking benefits from the V.A. are unwittingly walking into scams which can wreck their financial futures.

The scam that’s recently been uncovered targets elderly veterans looking for places to live in retirement communities or assisted living centers. If you have an elderly family member who is a veteran and disabled or cannot live on their own anymore, read on to make sure they don’t get scammed.

Little Oversight Over V.A. Approved Companies

One would think that anything offered through or on behalf of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would be legitimate… but that line of thinking is exactly what’s getting so many veterans into financial trouble. Why?

A simple lack of resources.

Unethical financial professionals, lawyers, and elderly care facilities are teaming up to provide veterans with help in seeking legitimate V.A benefits, such as the The Veterans Pension Program. Veterans and their families trust these people because they’ve been stamped with the seal of approval from the V.A. However, it turns out the V.A. doesn’t have the resources to properly screen them. According to a recent New York Times article on this subject matter,

“Questionable actors are capitalizing on loose oversight to unlock the V.A. money and enrich themselves, sometimes at veteran’s expense. The V.A. accreditation process is so lax that applicants provide their own background information, including any criminal records. But the V.A. has only four full-time employees evaluating the approximately 5,000 applications that it receives annually. Once people get the V.A.’s stamp of approval, they rarely lose it, even if a customer complains or regulatory actions mount. Last year the V.A. revoked it’s accreditation for two of its more than 20,000 advisers.”

In other words, the V.A. simply doesn’t have the ability to thoroughly screen professionals applying to provide services that help veterans receive their benefits. And those who are approved face little recourse if they begin to partake in shady practices.

How Veterans Are Getting Scammed

Picture this. You have an elderly parent who is a veteran and living on little income. It’s getting to the point where you know that your parent can no longer live alone, so you start researching assisted living facilities and retirement communities. In your search, you come across a lawyer who carries a V.A. seal of approval who can help you.

The lawyer says your parent could probably be approved for The Veterans Pension Program, which will help mitigate the cost of the assisted living facility you choose. You and your parent pay the lawyer, start the application process, and then your parent moves to the new facility.

Once your parent has moved and signed a long-term contract, you suddenly find out that your parent was ultimately denied the benefits and is now on the hook for a monthly rent fee that neither of you can afford. That quickly, your parent could stand to lose everything – all because you trusted someone who was supposedly trying to help you.

Seem unbelievable? Sadly, it’s becoming a common occurrence. According to the aforementioned New York Times article:

“The goal is often to coax seniors… into paying for services and investments and, in the process, signing contracts that lock them into long-term living arrangements, according to elder-care lawyers and interviews with more than three dozen veterans… While many veterans – technically eligible or not – secure the benefit, others do not. And if a benefit fails to materialize, the financial consequences could be catastrophic”

The good news is, although this problem is growing as more unethical companies pop up, you do have the power to prevent this from happening to you or your loved one.

How Veterans Can Protect Themselves from these Scams

The number one way to fight against this scam is to do your research. Number two? Trust your gut – if it sounds too good to be true, or if it contradicts the facts you found out in your research, then it probably is a scam.

For example, The Veterans Pension Program is only available to disabled or elderly veterans who make have an income of no more than $12,465 per year. Simply knowing facts like this is your best line of defense against being drawn into a scam. And if you have any questions about potential workarounds on rules like this, contact the V.A. directly. In all reality, you don’t need to pay a lawyer or company to help you through this process. You can do it on your own and prevent fraud in the process.

Have you or a loved one already been victimized by a scam like this? Or have you been in contact with a company that you think could be a scam? Visit Usa.gov and StopFraud.gov to report the incident and company. The sad truth is, financial scams of all shapes and sizes happen almost faster than they can be reported on. If you do your research, trust your gut, and refuse to pay money or sign paperwork until you’re 100% certain that something is legitimate, then you can make sure that your finances are safe.

Image Credit: DVIDSHUB

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