WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC), is leading efforts to rein in entities that prey on veterans and reinstate criminal penalties for bad actors who charge unnecessary and costly fees to help access Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.
During a committee hearing Wednesday, Boozman pressed VA leaders on the existing veterans experience while filing claims benefits and reiterated the need to reinstate criminal penalties for individuals and organizations that charge improper fees for the preparation, presentation or prosecution of any claim for VA benefits. Boozman is championing the Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act, legislation he introduced with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), SVAC Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would restore criminal penalties for unaccredited claim representatives who charge unauthorized fees while helping file a disability claim.
“In today’s world of technological advances and targeted advertising, it is more important than ever that Congress ensures accountability of any entity whose goal is to take advantage of the veteran population. With the passage of the PACT Act and the rise in disability claims over the past year, we must remain hyper focused on protecting our nation’s veterans and holding bad actors accountable,” Boozman said.
The VA confirmed its support of the GUARD VA Benefits Act.
“It’s critically important because we’ve seen a rise in individuals and organizations acting within this space to charge illegal fees. And they do it with somewhat seemingly assurance of impunity, meaning they recognize that VA’s authority is somewhat limited in prosecuting them,” said David Barrans, a lawyer in the VA’s Office of General Counsel. “We think it would make it much easier if there was a single federal standard specific to these actions that would make it easier for prosecutors to bring actions.”
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.