VA Benefits Scammers, Illegal Fees, and the Guard Act
The U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs recently held a hearing to discuss the ongoing problem of unaccredited claims agents and consider a piece of pending legislation, known as the GUARD Act, that could mitigate this issue and protect veterans from getting scammed.
What is the GUARD VA Benefits Act and How Would It Help Veterans?
GUARD Act stands for Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding Veterans Affairs Benefits. The GUARD VA Benefits Act aims to protect veterans who are filing benefit claims from unaccredited representatives charging unauthorized fees and engaging in predatory practices. The GUARD Act would reinstate criminal penalties for these illegal practices; specifically, it would impose a fine of up to $500, a term of imprisonment not to exceed two years, or both, for someone violating the law.
Why is it Necessary?
Currently, the law prohibits unaccredited individuals and businesses from charging a fee for assisting veterans in the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of an initial claim for VA benefits. However, VA and other federal agencies are limited in their ability to enforce the law because criminal penalties were
VA acknowledges that the elimination of criminal penalties for breaking this law has created an opportunity for certain groups to prey upon veterans. VA’s Office of General Counsel publicly stated that a failure to reimpose these much-needed penalties will cause the market of bad actors to grow and enable them to charge more veterans for services they can receive for free from accredited individuals.
Bad Actors vs. VA-Accredited Representatives
For many veterans, the VA claims and appeals process can be challenging to navigate. So, it is common for veterans and their families to seek assistance when filing an initial claim or appealing an unfavorable decision. However, not all veterans’ advocates are created equal.
Unaccredited Representatives Scamming Veterans
Over the past few years, many unaccredited companies and individuals have begun offering “help.” While they may say they are there to assist veterans, they have also publicly admitted to advancing their own financial interests. These representatives are not accredited, meaning they are not legally qualified to assist with VA benefits claims.
Veterans unknowingly seek assistance from these bad actors, only to be charged illegal fees, be hounded by debt collectors, or to miss out on their hard-earned VA benefits.
What is Accreditation and Why is it Important?
In order to represent a veteran before the Department of Veterans Affairs, an individual must become accredited. Being accredited by VA means that a representative is legally authorized by and deemed capable of assisting claimants in pursuit of benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs, including at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. In addition to the application, for attorneys the accreditation process requires being licensed by a state bar to practice law and be in good standing with the state bar, for agents, it requires a background check and passing an accreditation examination.
The accreditation program exists to ensure that veterans and their family members receive adequate, informed representation throughout the VA benefits appeals process. VA-accredited representatives can include:
- Accredited claims agents
- Veteran service organizations (VSOs)
- State or county government entities
How to Report Suspicious or Illegal Representatives
Perhaps most importantly, if a veteran or claimant has concerns about their accredited representative, they may file a complaint with VA’s Office of the General Counsel, in charge of hearing and resolving these concerns. Notably, VA cannot resolve disputes between a veteran and an unaccredited representative. So, in these unfortunate circumstances, veterans are left without recourse at VA. This is why the GUARD Act is so important.
If veterans do encounter unaccredited representatives, there are several actions they can take. These include reporting the individual or company to the state bar for unauthorized practice of law, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and to VA. Additionally, veterans can leave a negative review to prevent others from falling victim to these scammers.
Learn More About the Guard Act
The GUARD Act is currently pending before the Veterans’ Affairs Committees at both the House and the Senate. For more detailed information, you can read the proposed House bill and the proposed Senate bill.
CCK fully supports this important legislation and will continue to provide status updates about the act as they become available.
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Our team is made up of experienced and accredited VA disability lawyers and advocates who have the knowledge, resources, dedication, and passion to fight for the benefits you deserve. Contact us today for a free case review.
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