“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
That’s the adage veterans can keep in mind when seeking assistance with filing disability claims, said Mike Stoddard, national service director for the Benefits Service program at Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP).
Applying for disability, rating changes, or pensions with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can be a confusing and daunting process for many veterans. Some businesses try to take advantage of that by charging excessively for assistance in filing VA claims, even promising to increase disability ratings or to get veterans disability in the first place.
Seek Accredited Veterans Service Organizations to File Claims
Veterans can file VA claims on their own behalf for free through the VA, but also have access to numerous veterans service organizations (VSOs), like WWP. VSOs can help warriors file claims completely free of charge — and are also accredited by the VA. While VSOs can’t guarantee a positive result, many — like WWP — have the expertise, experience, and, most importantly, the recognized right to help veterans collect the benefits they deserve in a manner that honors their service.
Stoddard said veterans need to be careful about claims that make guarantees or promises.
“Some companies will advertise that they do something better than the VSO or accredited agents, but that's really false,” he said. “I don't know any accredited agent that would ever tell someone, ‘I can guarantee you will get x-amount percentage increase.’ It's just not possible.”
Predatory Claims Practices Became More Common During the Pandemic
Stoddard said the COVID-19 pandemic helped create a surge of predatory practices during a time when many veterans may have been most vulnerable. Because of the pandemic, many warriors had appointments canceled or postponed, Stoddard said, leaving veterans potentially more susceptible to predatory tactics.
In turn, the pandemic was sometimes used as an opportunity to target veterans on social media, with promises to increase disability ratings and offers of “free” evaluations. The veteran could end up paying thousands of dollars upfront or even a portion of their disability payments for an extended period — all for help they can get for free.
“What they found was an opportunity to reach out to warriors and say, ‘we'll take care of everything for you, and we’ll get you an increase in your rating,’ but it came at a cost,” Stoddard said. “And the problem is veterans are being scammed with poor-quality claims advice, locking them into harmful contracts, and, in some cases, getting access to personal information that is not needed.”
Stoddard said a common predatory practice is accessing the veteran’s info through the VA website or eBenefits by using the veteran’s login information. Legally, only VA-accredited individuals and organizations can assist veterans and their family members with benefits claims.
Be Wary of Signing Complicated and Confusing Contracts
Another bad practice is using confusing tactics or ambiguous language in contracts, purposely designed to mislead the veteran.
“The contract the veteran signs are long, confusing, sometimes illegal, documents that typically run over 10 pages long,” Stoddard said.
Stoddard warns warriors to be on the lookout for these practices and to make sure the assistance they receive is from a reputable source.
The VA provides a searchable database of accredited VSO representatives, attorneys, and agents to help veterans navigate the benefits process and avoid unscrupulous tactics.
“Don’t pay for your benefits advocacy, come see an accredited agent,” Stoddard said. “It’s important that warriors know, sometimes what seems like the fastest path to getting something is really a barrier to getting you what you need and costs you money that you don't need to spend.”
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.