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Proposed bill takes aim at veterans’ pension predators

By MACKENZIE REISS | (Kalispell, Mont.) Daily Inter Lake | Published: August 3, 2019

KALISPELL, Mont. (Tribune News Service) — Companies that prey on veterans’ pensions could face penalties under the FREE Veterans Act, introduced by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. on Thursday.

The bill would reinstate a penalty on companies that illegally provide advice or representation for veterans without approval from the Veterans Administration. Those found in violation could be fined and could face up to one year in jail. Under the FREE Veterans Act, the VA would be also required to inform veterans or their spouses of their right to repeal fees associated with legal representation in pursuit of their benefits.

Veterans who are honorably discharged are eligible for a multitude of benefits, including disability compensation, pension programs, and free or low-cost medical care. Select companies purport to cut through the red tape of the VA by helping to determine a veteran’s eligibility for benefits and assisting with the application process.

Flathead Valley resident Pat Pardue, the widow of a World War II Navy veteran, sought assistance from one such entity. She used the services of a company called Veterans Care Coordination to apply for her pension and to set up home care, the Daily Inter Lake reported in March. But when she attempted to discontinue services a year later, Pardue received a letter from a law firm alleging she was “delinquent in [her] payment obligations” and threatened litigation. When asked for comment, an attorney representing Veterans Care Coordination said he was unfamiliar with the details of the case and that neither his firm nor the company he represented had pursued any legal action in the state of Montana.

Pardue reached out to Veterans Service officer Bryan Zipp in Kalispell for help and also learned she had been receiving only a fraction of the pension she was due.

“They were receiving my full VA pension, they kept a portion of my pension to pay for their services, every month, then they paid another company, every month, to provide my in home care. My pension benefits at that time were $1,176 a month. By the time I received money to pay for my care I was only getting $400 a month,” Pardue said. “So, I stopped speaking with them and sought assistance from Bryan Zipp. He has been amazing in helping to bring justice to the situation. I want to thank Senator Daines for everything he has done to help stop this from happening to anyone else.”

Zipp said the FREE Veterans Act will be a step forward in protecting the country’s veterans and allowing the VA to keep a better eye on agencies that assist veterans with obtaining their benefits.

“I’m just glad that something’s happening to take care of these veterans,” he said. “It’s going to start holding people accountable.”

The VA warns that potential poaching scams can take the form of those who cold call veterans, people who charge money for assisting with pension claims and callers that take credit card information over the phone.

Veterans can file claims for their benefits at no cost through the Veterans Service Organization or for a fee through a VA-accredited agency or attorney.

“A lot of the time, we’re a go-to interagency person for a lot of these folks,” Zipp said of the VSO. “If they don’t know the answer, we can usually find it pretty quick. We take the stress out of it for them.”

A 2017 AARP study found that veterans are twice as likely as nonveterans to lose money to fraud and that nearly 80% of the veterans surveyed had been targets of scams related to their military service.

“It is a shame that there are bad actors out there looking to take advantage of our nation’s heroes,” Daines said. “My legislation cracks down on pension poachers and ensure our veterans in Montana and across the country are protected from these illegal scams.”

Get your benefits

Search for a VA accredited attorney, claims agent or Veterans Service Organization representatives at https://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation. For more information, call 800-827-1000.

©2019 the Daily Inter Lake (Kalispell, Mont.)
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