WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), senior members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, were joined by Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in introducing legislation to hold unaccredited entities that target men and women who served in uniform accountable for their predatory practices. The Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act would reinstate criminal penalties for unaccredited claim representatives who charge unauthorized fees while helping file a disability claim.
Current law prohibits unaccredited individuals and businesses from charging a fee for assisting a veteran in the preparation, presentation or prosecution of a VA benefit claim. However, the VA and other federal agencies are limited in their ability to enforce the law because criminal penalties were eliminated from the statute nearly 20 years ago.
“Ensuring veterans have the resources to make informed decisions about filing VA claims is an important part of helping them access the benefits they’ve earned. They also deserve to have trusted and reliable advocates working on their behalf, which is why we must hold accountable those aiming to make a profit off their service. I’m proud to join my colleagues to strengthen education of the claims process and hold bad actors responsible for their predatory practices,” said Boozman.
“This legislation is needed because unaccredited claims representatives often extract exorbitant profits from veterans,” said Blumenthal. “Predatory scammers who exploit our heroes must be held accountable – which is why the GUARD VA Benefits Act makes strong bipartisan sense. By strengthening the VA’s enforcement authority, we can protect our veterans charged for benefits they’ve rightfully earned.”
“I’ll take on anyone in Washington to protect veterans from scammers looking to prey on their hard-earned benefits,” said Tester. “That’s why we’re introducing bipartisan legislation to hold predatory actors accountable by reinstating criminal penalties that will protect the men and women who fought to protect our country.”
“Ensuring that our veterans are protected against those who wish to take advantage of them should be a top priority of Congress. I’m pleased to join Senator Boozman and Senator Blumenthal in this effort. I hope this sends a clear signal that those unfairly targeting and treating our nation’s veterans will be held accountable for their actions,” Graham said.
The bipartisan measure has the support of numerous veterans advocacy organizations. Here is what they are saying about the GUARD VA Benefits Act:
“The Military Officers Association of America asks Congress to take swift action and pass the GUARD VA Benefits Act,” said Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, USAF (Ret), MOAA president and CEO. “Veterans need our support to get the target off their backs from uncertified predatory claims agents looking to profit from their service-connected conditions. MOAA thanks Senators Boozman and Blumenthal for their continued leadership on this bill and their commitment to ensure veterans are supported by accredited and accountable representation.”
“For many disabled veterans, VA disability compensation can be the difference between making ends meet and homelessness. That’s why it remains imperative that veterans are properly represented by accredited individuals and institutions—such as DAV and our nationwide corps of benefits advocates—when applying for VA benefits. DAV applauds the bipartisan leadership of Sens. Boozman and Blumenthal for introducing the GUARD VA Benefits Act, which will help ensure disabled veterans receive VA-accredited representation while deterring predatory practices that seek to bilk our nation’s heroes of their earned VA benefits,” said Joe Parsetich, DAV National Commander.
“The VFW strongly supports the GUARD VA Benefits Act which would put guardrails in place to protect veterans from entities seeking to take their hard-earned benefits. Reinstating penalties for people charging unauthorized fees relating to veteran claims is a necessary action to prevent claims sharks from preying upon veterans. The VFW thanks Senators Boozman and Blumenthal for their continued bipartisan support for service members, veterans, and their families,” said Pat Murray, VFW’s National Legislative Director.
Click here to read the GUARD VA Benefits Act.