WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, joined Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Reps. Chris Pappas (D-NH) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) in calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to enforce all existing protections for veterans filing initial claims for disability benefits and request any additional tools it needs to hold bad actors accountable for scamming veterans.
“With the PACT Act providing the largest expansion of veterans’ benefits in decades, veterans are increasingly becoming the targets of predatory, quasi-legal claims consultants,” lawmakers wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “The department must exercise every enforcement tool at its disposal and request those it needs to better protect veterans from bad actors looking to take advantage of them.”
Current law prohibits individuals and businesses from assisting a veteran in the preparation, presentation or prosecution of a VA claim unless they are accredited through VA. Additionally, fees for assistance may only be charged after VA makes a decision on an initial claim and all fees can only be calculated based on a veteran’s retroactive benefits. However, 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. The VA has asked Congress to reinstate criminal penalties.
The Boozman-authored GUARD VA Benefits Act would reinstate those criminal penalties for unaccredited claim representatives charging veterans unauthorized fees while helping file their VA claims.
“Our mission is to protect veterans and ensure they are not paying unqualified individuals to receive their benefits. As co-sponsors of the GUARD VA Benefits Act to reinstate criminal penalties, we believe VA must enforce the law and protect veterans from unaccredited individuals looking at veterans as a payday. Veterans shouldn’t have to turn to outside consultants to work through the initial claims process,” members wrote.
The lawmakers pressed VA to look into what the department can do, besides reinstate criminal penalties, to help protect veterans and their earned benefits, and asked it to inform Congress of its efforts to ensure veterans are not overwhelmed with filing an initial claim in the first place.
The letter was also signed by GUARD VA Benefits Act cosponsors House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Mark Takano (D-CA), Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Fetterman (D-PA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Jack Reed (D-RI), James Risch (R-ID), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Andre Carson (D-IN).
Read the full letter HERE.