Wounded Warrior Project Aims to Protect Veterans from Predatory Practices
|Table of Contents
|Predatory Claims Assistance
|VA Home Loan Refinancing
Veterans and service members have sacrificed so much to protect us, so it’s important to protect them from scams, fraud, and predatory practices that target the benefits they’ve earned through their service.
The Federal Trade Commission’s most recent data shows financial scams are on the rise. According to the FTC, reported fraud losses increased more than 30% in 2022 from the previous year. Veterans, active-duty service members, and their families are not immune to these scams and predatory tactics. The FTC reported fraud against military members and their families increased 69% from 2020 to 2021. The FTC also stated that recent legislation related to toxic exposure, which may entitle more eligible veterans and their family members to benefits, could be contributing to the increase in predatory activity.
Even if a person or business is not engaging in fraudulent tactics, veterans and their family members should know the importance of getting VA-accredited assistance – and that they don’t have to pay for this help. Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) and other veterans service organizations can help veterans file for disability and other benefits at no cost to veterans or their families.
Many of the scams and predatory tactics that target veterans and their family members are aimed at VA disability compensation, pensions, and VA home loans.
Predatory Claims Assistance
Filing for VA disability compensation or other benefits can often be a confusing and daunting process, so it’s only natural veterans and their families would be open to assistance. However, if the assistance comes from an individual or company that is not VA-accredited, there could be a lot to lose.
“The message we want to put up front is to get a VA-accredited representative,” said WWP National Benefits Service Director Mike Stoddard. “You also have the option not to pay for one. You never have to pay. But if a family support member or a warrior decides to pay for claim assistance, make sure you're paying somebody who is accredited by VA. If they're not, chances are they're a part of a scam or the veteran is going to get unethical representation.”
Stoddard also said guarantees of getting compensation or a ratings increase should be met with skepticism.
“Nobody can ever promise a rating,” Stoddard said. “If anybody says, ‘I promise you that we're going to get you a 30% increase for example or they promise we will get you to 100%, those promises are very unethical. WWP’s mission is to help get you the benefits you've earned in a manner that honors your service.”
Some other things veterans should look out for include:
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Anyone can access the list of VA-accredited organizations and individuals to make sure their dealing with a legitimate nonprofit or business and that they aren’t being scammed.
- Pay attention to red flags. Companies or individuals asking for your username and password to access your VA login or asking you to sign a contract or grant them power of attorney should set off warning bells. If asked to sign a contract, check with someone you trust, including WWP, or other veterans service organizations who will help you understand the contract without charging a fee.
- You’re doing all the work. Imagine paying someone to help you, but you’re doing all the legwork? If a company or individual provides you a checklist, but you’re filling out all forms, and monitoring the status, it might be time to look elsewhere.
- Do your research. Search engines are a great way to find information, but companies can pay to put themselves higher up in a search. Stoddard said it’s important after searching for benefits claims assistance to do your homework and make sure whoever you reach out to is VA-accredited and has a good reputation. Also, social media and TV ads often target veterans, , including ads regarding toxic exposure, overseas burn pits and the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. Legislation like this is especially important and critical to serve veterans but has also contributed to an increase in scams and other predatory tactics that aim to mislead eligible veterans and family members into thinking they need to pay to “sign up” with a company or hire an attorney to qualify for benefits related to exposure.
- The process sounds too simple. If a company or person suggests that filing for VA benefits will be a cinch, that should give you pause. While someone who knows what they’re doing can simplify the process, it’s still a process. “The unethical folks make it sound like the process is easier than what it is it is,” Stoddard said. “It’s not an especially hard process, but it’s easier when you have someone that has your best interest going through it.”
Veterans aren’t the only ones being targeted. Survivors and family members are also at risk, perhaps even more so. The survivor or family member may not know how or where to access the veteran’s military records, such as a DD214, and are promised help with obtaining records for a percent of any compensation they may receive. Survivors and family members also don’t need to pay for assistance.
“Come see us,” Stoddard said. “We advocate for survivors, just like we advocate for warriors and for veterans. We will walk them through how to get their records and help them get the things they need to reduce the stress that comes with being the survivor.”
Some of the fallout from entrusting your VA claim to an unaccredited company could be losing a big chunk of your disability payments or being obligated to pay for an extended period of time. Paying for assistance with claims or appeals is never necessary, but proper accreditation is to ensure you’re getting trustworthy and honest help.
“We don't charge veterans or warriors for the services we provide because we know they've already earned their benefits,” Stoddard said.
Depending on time in service and other factors, veterans may also be eligible for monthly pension payments. More importantly when it comes to a veteran’s pension, certain family members like spouses and children may also be eligible for compensation. Pension poaching often targets a late veteran’s surviving spouse or family members with promises of helping them get retirement benefits – for a fee or a portion of the compensation received.
“[Pension poaching] takes money out of the pocket of the survivor,” Stoddard said. “What’s really important to understand about that is pension is not the same as disability compensation. It’s at a lower rate most times. So, if they’re asking for a percentage of that amount, they’re taking a bigger chunk.”
Many of the same tactics used in predatory claims assistance and VA disability scams are also used in pension poaching, so veterans and their families should be aware of the same things to look out for. In the case of pension poaching, however, surviving family members should be extra diligent and can seek help from a VA-accredited organization that also supports family members as well as veterans.
“We look holistically at the warrior’s entire family and how we take care of the family so, that when the time comes, and they need assistance to get their claims done, they know we’re here for them,” Stoddard said. “There's pension, there is a burial benefit, there are all kinds of things that happen when a veteran passes that survivors need to know about and we can help them through that.”
It's also important to start talking about these things with family members earlier rather than later, so they are informed and better able to spot scams or unethical practices. As post-9/11 warriors age and conditions sometimes worsen, especially some illnesses related to toxic exposure, having a plan in place can reduce a lot of issues down the road.
“The post-9/11 veteran population is multi-generational,” Stoddard said. “We need to be able to have those conversations. Don't wait until the veteran is in hospice to have a conversation about survivor benefits. You have an opportunity to have that all laid out and planned, and then can just enjoy being with your family support member and spending that time together and not stressing about it later. Those are all precious minutes.”
When it comes to almost every aspect of a warrior’s life, including physical health and wellness, mental wellness, financial education, and even benefits claims, it’s important to have the whole family involved.
“Families are a part of the holistic health of our warriors,” Stoddard said. “I think it's crucial that anytime a warrior comes to see us, bring the family, and get them signed up with us. Let them be a part of the programs that we offer so that the journey doesn't begin when stuff gets hard. They're a part of the journey throughout most of a warrior’s service and long after.”
VA Home Loan Refinancing
Veterans who intend to buy or own a home through a VA loan are likely to receive unsolicited offers saying they can reduce their payments or get a large cash out by refinancing their homes.
VA home loans are backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and often require less upfront money than traditional home loans, making them a huge benefit for veterans. Once a veteran has a VA home loan, it’s important to protect the benefits that come with it and pay attention to the small print on unsolicited refinancing offers.
“One of the things veterans need to be aware of is that the new offer may no longer be a fixed rate or there may now be an increase in the interest rate,” said Michael Snook, senior national benefits service officer for WWP. “They may also tell you that you have equity and can cash out that equity, but often it’s pretty targeted marketing and may appear to come from VA, but it doesn’t.”
It's probably in the veteran’s best interest to be wary of unsolicited offers to refinance and, of course, to follow the adage of “it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
“Consider the long-term effects,” Stoddard said. “In the short-term, I get money in my pocket, I can pay some bills, but the long-term effect is I'm paying more for my house.”
Unfortunately, veterans are often targeted by predatory practices during their most difficult times, like losing a job or a reduction in income or falling behind on mortgage payments. Those scary times can sometimes lead to rash decisions that are not in the veteran’s best interest.
“What a lot of veterans don't realize is the VA loan guarantee actually has its own call center they can reach out to and that can possibly work with their bank to maybe adjust their mortgage,” Snook said. “It’s easy to panic and immediately start looking up ways to rectify the situation. They're getting the targeted mail and then get into these instances where they end up remodeling their loan with a private lender and then the VA’s certificate of eligibility [for a VA-backed home loan] doesn't protect them anymore.”
Overall, the main thing warriors and their family members need to remember when it comes to claims assistance, pensions, and VA home loans is to pay attention to the details of the offer and check it out with VA or a veterans service organization before agreeing to anything. Also, none of these things are something they have to deal with alone. Wounded Warrior Project is here to help.
“There’s a difference between advocacy and service, and we advocate for that veteran and their family members,” Stoddard said. “You don’t have to navigate that journey by yourself. Let us help you through that process.”
Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, email@example.com, 904.570.7910
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.