Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Jon Tester (D-MT), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced legislation this week that would require 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.
“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.”
Last month, Senator Collins held a hearing titled, “Veterans Scams: Protecting Those Who Protected Us.” Senator Collins also led a letter to VA Secretary Wilkie signed by nearly every member of the Aging Committee urging the Department to alert veterans to the risk of scams and seeking information on steps the VA has already taken to protect veterans.
The Veteran Pension Protection Act would:
· 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 Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel network, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Office of Inspector General (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.