Why I seek more oversight in the VA disability claims space
Special to Stars and Stripes April 24, 2023
As a veteran, and co-founder of a veteran-operated company, I know firsthand the countless problems plaguing the veteran community. An underfunded health care system is not providing the support our veterans need, a growing homelessness crisis disproportionately hits our veterans, and a confusing disability benefits program facing a massive backlog is not providing the assistance many need.
Each of these issues have major impacts on veterans, but I am most concerned with disability benefits and the challenge of clearing the backlog while ensuring the bad actors that seek to take advantage of veterans are kept out of the system and are criminally punished.
There are over 19 million veterans, and only 5 million have a Department of Veterans Affairs benefits rating. Additional support is needed to help the government and Veteran Service Organizations alleviate the backlog of claims and ensure that veterans are receiving the benefits that were rightfully earned.
After 23 years, six operational deployments, and finally retiring as a lieutenant colonel, I am proud to have served my country and I’m proud to have co-founded Veterans Guardian, one of the largest veteran-owned and veteran-operated companies helping veterans navigate the VA claims process. As I was retiring, I struggled with my own claim. Information was difficult to find as was assistance with the limited capacity and hours of the options available to the large military community.
I have seen the problems firsthand, and as a veteran-owned-and-operated company, we pride ourselves on empowering veterans with choices, options, and the freedom to succeed in life post-service.
I recently testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to discuss these critical issues facing my fellow veterans.
As was discussed in the hearing, there is consensus among all the actors in the veteran benefit space — VSOs, private consultants and attorneys — we all believe that if a company is able to be accredited, they should be welcomed into the system. With this accreditation should come strict scrutiny and the threat of criminal penalties for any malfeasance, fraud or abuse.
Unfortunately, the current accreditation process excludes companies like mine and prevents consultants with resources, specialized expertise, and training from assisting veterans with a claim from start to finish, ensuring they get the most accurate rating they are legally, ethically and medically eligible for due to their service.
In my testimony, I outlined how the current system is not meeting the needs of veterans and requested Congress consider holistic reforms that would better serve our veterans.
Thankfully, Rep. Jack Bergman, a Michigan Republican and retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general who is the highest-ranking combat veteran to ever serve in Congress, recently introduced legislation that would provide sensible solutions to the numerous concerns many have with the current system. The Preserving Lawful Utilization of Services for Veterans Act (PLUS) would expand the options available to veterans by bringing necessary reforms to the accreditation process while increasing oversight of those that assist with disability claims.
A private company rarely asks Washington for more oversight and regulations, but that’s what I did because it is necessary if we are going to address this problem.
This legislation builds upon the good intentions, but flawed execution, of previous efforts by preserving a veteran’s right to choose how they navigate the government. The PLUS Act maintains a wide variety of options, while at the same time protecting veterans from predatory practices by legislating guardrails concerning issues such as fees and medical provider relationships. We cannot label all for-profit companies “exploitative,” or “predatory” especially when many veterans attest to the great support they have received from these companies.
We must increase the VA’s capability to enforce laws against exploitation and punish truly bad actors. Reforming the accreditation process and increasing access to services for veterans is the most sensible thing to do. I will continue to call upon Congress to bring about these necessary reforms. It is all too often that veterans’ issues are cast aside. Champions like Jack Bergman deserve high praise, and I will do my best to lend my voice to the discussion for those who have been left behind and underserved by the current system.
William Taylor, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, is chief operating officer of Veterans Guardian, a veteran-owned and -operated VA benefits consulting firm.