(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) introduced legislation this week requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to systematically track victims, scammers, and trends to proactively protect veterans and survivors across the country from predatory pension poachers.
Our nation’s aging veterans represent a segment of vulnerable individuals increasingly targeted by bad actors preying on the VA pension benefits they’ve earned. While veterans are often victims of scams including being overcharged for home care, charged for services they did not receive, or given bad investment advice, a recent report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office found that VA has not taken an aggressive approach to prevent this exploitation.
The Veteran Pension Protection Act will require VA to take a more central and active role in identifying the prevalence of these scams, educating veterans, survivors, and VA claims processors, and tracking the effectiveness of VA’s current system of reporting complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“It is unacceptable that scammers continue to exploit vulnerable veterans who sacrificed to protect our freedom,” said Senator Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. “Our bill holds VA accountable by requiring the Department to proactively identify and track bad actors looking to take advantage of our nation’s heroes. Veterans in Montana and across the country deserve to have Congress and VA in their corner, fighting tooth and nail to protect their hard-earned benefits. I’ll be continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that we protect those who protected us.”
“Veterans and their families have a right to expect that the nation they protected will fight to protect them from criminals seeking to rob them of the benefits they have earned through their service,” said Senator Collins. “I recently chaired a hearing to raise awareness about the disproportionate number of scams targeting veterans. This bipartisan bill would address several issues raised at our hearing by requiring the VA to strengthen its fraud response as well as to educate veterans on ways to identify scams.”
“Our Veterans have honorably served our country with valor and it is our responsibility to serve veterans in return,” said Senator Casey. “So, it is unconscionable to me that anyone would stoop so low as to deceive those who have sacrificed so much for our country. We must fight back against these scams by ensuring the VA identifies and tracks these schemes. The Veteran Pension Protection Act is a first step to combatting scams against Veterans.”
“It is heartbreaking to hear stories of the hardships our veterans face because of scam artists,” said Senator Daines. “It’s been one of my top priorities in Congress to protect Montana’s veterans from pension scammers, and I’ll continue working with my colleagues and with the Administration to hold those who take advantage of our veterans accountable.”
The Veteran Pension Protection Act will:
· Require VA to collect information on potential financial exploitation from all departments within the VA then create a plan to address trends apparent within this data.
· Call for VA to regularly update guidance and training curriculum to claims processors regarding the definition and examples of questionable medical expenses in pension claims.
· Require VA to develop a mechanism for tracking the number of individuals receiving pension benefits for which they are not eligible and provide an annual report to Congress.
· Require a report on additional steps that can be taken to verify direct deposit information.
· Create an annual report on the number of pension recipients that are identified by the Department as likely or proven victims of financial exploitation.
· Require VA to report on the result of referrals of financial exploitation that they submit to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel network, the DOJ, and the OIG.
· Require any educational or application material created by the Department to inform applicants that the Department does not charge fees in connection with applying for pension benefits.
· Require an educational outreach plan, in collaboration with Veterans Service Organizations, for reaching individuals vulnerable to financial exploitation.