Enough politics: Disabled veterans need our help
Special to Stars and Stripes May 22, 2022
We have a serious problem in this country when it comes to caring for our veterans when they return from war. As a veteran myself who has gone through the disability benefits process, I know this firsthand. This country has a duty to provide these men and women with the health care, benefits and compensation that they have rightfully earned for their service to the nation. Unfortunately, this has been an ongoing generational challenge.
Our veteran benefits system is deeply flawed. The Department of Veterans Affairs is famously difficult to navigate. It leaves vulnerable wounded veterans with a confusing bureaucracy to navigate to receive the treatment they need for injuries and mental health issues sustained in combat. The VA disability claims process is even more difficult for a Veteran to navigate without assistance.
As a veteran-founded company, Veterans Guardian recognized a significant need in the current system to provide Veterans assistance in the VA disability claims process.
The VA requires that veterans provide proof of their disability, proof of eligibility for VA disability benefits, proof that their disability is related to military service, and medical evidence to support their claims. Many disabled veterans need assistance collecting, vetting and providing these materials.
Simply put, the VA is not an ally in this process, and the current model for assistance is not working. It depends heavily on veteran service organizations and state and county employees, which do not have the capacity or capability to meet the needs of the full veteran community. These organizations should remain a key pillar of claims assistance, but as part of a wider community of options.
As in any industry, there is malfeasance in parts of the claims consulting industry — among both accredited and unaccredited consultants — and this is shameful. No one should accept this reality. This is why I recently participated in a congressional hearing in front of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on this topic. We at Veterans Guardian detest the mistreatment of veterans, and we view our company as a key component of the solution to empower veterans and to assist them throughout this process.
There are tangible steps we can take to fix things. We must first identify and punish bad actors who are taking advantage of the confusion wrought by the VA to prey upon veterans. Certain companies are securing pensions for veterans and then requiring the purchase of expensive financial products. Most egregiously, some companies provide an upfront loan and then require future repayment that can be more than 10 times the loan amount. These bad actors have no place in the veteran disability benefits system, and Congress, veteran service organizations and companies like ours are right to push for an end to these despicable practices.
However, the majority of companies in the claims consulting industry focus on assisting veterans with disability claims in an honest and forthright way. These companies typically work on a contingent basis and receive compensation based only on a successful benefits increase. We only win when the veteran wins, and any compensation for our services comes exclusively from new benefits, with a flexible pay schedule for the veteran.
Veterans Guardian supports accreditation reform which opens the tent and provides a path to accreditation for companies such as ours. Reform should allow an accredited agent to assist a veteran for a fee at any step of the process with appropriate protections for the veteran. This would expand the options for assistance, providing veterans with the right to choose how they want to pursue their claims. Reform should also increase requirements for accreditation to ensure competent representation, VA oversight of agents, enhanced transparency throughout the process, and VA enforcement tools to pursue bad actors.
No one questions the service these men and women have provided to our country. It’s time to set aside the politics and find a solution that prioritizes the health and wellbeing of our veterans.
Bill Taylor, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, is chief operating officer of Veterans Guardian.