If you currently receive VA pension payments or if you are thinking about applying for Veterans Pension, Survivors Pension, or Aid and Attendance (A&A) and housebound benefits, you could be the target of a scam known as pension poaching. Don’t let scammers take advantage of you. Read on to see how you can protect the benefits you have earned.
What is Pension Poaching?
Every year, VA distributes a billion dollars in pension payments to help low-income Veterans who served in wartime and their families through financial challenges. Pension poaching is a financial scam that targets Veterans, survivors and family members who may be eligible for these benefits. The most popular type of pension poaching occurs when dishonest people falsely qualify Veterans and survivors for VA pension benefits. These individuals may be attorneys, financial planners or benefits advisors.
Who are the Pension Poachers?
Veterans should be on the lookout for people or organizations who:
Tell you to move your money around to qualify for VA pension payments.
Claim that pension benefits can be deposited into a caregiver’s account.
Charge you money for assisting with a VA pension claim.
Take your credit card information over the phone.
Charge you money upfront to represent your claim with VA.
Most poaching scams target Veterans and family members who do not qualify for VA pension benefits. If VA approves your pension benefits and later determines that eligibility did not exist, you may be required to repay the benefits to the government.
Protect Yourself from Scammers
The most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family from pension poaching is to know the facts. Here are the top things you should know to keep your benefits safe.
Only approved individuals can help you file a claim. In addition to working directly with VA, there are three types of representatives that can help you with your claim: Veterans Service Organizations, attorneys and agents. VA’s Office of the General Counsel maintains a searchable list of approved individuals. Always check this list before discussing your pension benefits with anyone outside of VA.
You do not need to pay to submit your application. VA does not charge to process your application. No one can charge you to prepare or file an initial application without breaking federal law.
You should never pay money upfront. In some cases, an accredited attorney or claims agent may be able to charge you a fee for preparing your claim. This can only happen after a VA regional office issues a decision on your claim. The attorney or agent must also file a power of attorney and a fee agreement with VA.
No one can guarantee that you will receive benefits from VA. Even accredited individuals on the Office of the General Counsel list cannot guarantee that you will receive VA pension benefits after you apply. Only VA can determine eligibility and award benefits and services.
VA benefits can only go directly to Veterans or survivors. Pension payments cannot be placed into a caregiver’s account.
Keep these five tips in mind when applying for VA pension benefits and you can “Spot a Scam, Stop a Scam” before it happens.