VA Told To Do More To Protect Veterans From Scams By Senate Aging Committee
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The Department of Veterans Affairs was told to do more to protect vets from elder abuse scams by the Senate Aging Committee Wednesday.
“We are concerned that America’s Veterans are being targeted by unscrupulous scammers who are seeking to rob them of their life savings and defraud them of the benefits they have earned in service to our country. It is imperative that (Veterans Affairs) take action to alert our veterans to the risks of these scams, and what can be done to combat them,” 13 of the Committee’s 15 members said in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
The scams include fraudsters contacting veterans pretending to collect money to help other veterans, crooks pretending to update the files of veterans to obtain personally identifiable information or inform vets they qualify for a “secret” government program that requires an initial payment, according to the letter.
Senate Aging Chair Maine Republican Susan Collins said at a Wednesday Committee hearing the reason the VA might not be being more aggressive in combating this problem is the agency has been besieged for years by problems in delivering health care so protecting veterans from financial fraud could understandably be a lower priority.
However, the Senator claimed the agency could step up its game on financial fraud protection by taking two steps immediately without more resources.
One way, she pointed to, would to have the VA forward complains about financial fraud from vets to the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department.
Recently, each of the U.S. District Attorney’s offices around the country has been directed to have a lawyer focused on elder abuse.
Another way, said Collins, would be for the VA to distribute to vets a brochure from the AARP Fraud Watch Network and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service why they are especially susceptible to fraudster.
“Veterans have a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rate more than double the general public’s which can make it more difficult for them to recognize and combat the emotional manipulation used by scam artists,” the brochure warns.
Both Collins and Senate Aging Ranking Democrat accused fraudsters who prey on veterans as being more insidious their victims worked to ensure the security of the country.
Collins called them “relentless criminals” while Casey lashed out with “scum of the earth.”
He added if Wilkie responds the VA needs more authority from Congress to combat veteran financial abuse, the Committee will work on it.
AARP and the Postal Inspection Service have joined in a campaign to fight financial abuse among the retired military called Operation Protect Veterans with a website OperationProtectVeterans.com
he USPIS is working with the Justice Department to get more authority to combat the fraud, the agency’s acting Inspector in Charge overseeing Communications, Governance and Strategy told the Committee.
An AARP report gave a statistical landscape of the problem two years ago.
According to the AARP study 80 percent of veterans say they have encountered veterans-specific scam.
The research also found 16 percent of veterans have lost money to fraudsters, double the rate of the general public.
To take the dangers of veterans financial abuse from the statistical to the personal the Maine chair of the Senate Aging Committee brought in brought in Maine Air Force vet Ben Wells to tell the scam he helped stop with a support group Vet to Vet.
Once, Wells said the wife of an elderly former service member group saw an ad for free in-home care for veterans and invited representatives of the company to their home with Wells present
The Vet to Vet volunteer said he started to suspect a scam when they proposed the veteran set up a separate checking account, for the VA pension and Aid and Attendance money, that their organization could directly access and once the veteran started receiving the money from those benefits, the organization would simply deduct the money from the account to pay for their services.
Wells said he also became suspicious when they pushed a way to circumvent a means test for the pension and other services.
“There needs to be more protection of veterans. I believe that if in-home workers, volunteers, and health care workers had higher awareness they could push the information to these veterans,” said the Vet to Vet workers.
A Senate Aging spokesperson said the two Committee members who did not sign the letter to the VA Secretary, Indiana Republican Mike Braun and North Carolina Republican Richard Burr may have been absent because of time pressures to get the correspondence out.