In recent years, Congress has drastically expanded VA disability benefits and increased the annual budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Although the developments have enabled formerly ineligible veterans to access sorely needed financial assistance, they have also inspired a resurgence of fraudulence from unaccredited lawyers and other services.
Promising to increase claimants’ disability rating and summarily demanding astronomical fees, these unlicensed and unaccredited lawyers pose a threat to veterans around the country. To combat the troubling reports of VA disability benefits fraud, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced the GUARD Act of 2023 in April 2023. The legislation would reinstate currently suspended criminal penalties for the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of VA benefits claims from actors and companies without accreditation from the VA.
What Is the GUARD VA Benefits Act?
The Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act of 2023 is an amendment to the U.S. Federal Code that reinstates criminal penalties for the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of VA claims by companies and individuals who lack accreditation from the VA. In 2006, Congress suspended both the fines and threat of imprisonment for fraudulent actors enshrined in 38 CFR 14.626.
The decision stripped the regulatory VA Office of General Counsel (OGC) of its powers to enforce the law, thereby enabling fraudulent enterprises to operate. Following recent legislative initiatives that expanded VA benefits and exponentially increased annual allotments, the incentive to partake in technically illegal but practically unpunishable offenses grew.
To address the unnerving increase in the number of unaccredited companies or actors threatening to defraud veterans, Congress is currently considering the revival of such criminal penalties as:
- Fines up to $500, and/or
- Imprisonment “not to exceed two years”
NAAG Publishes Bipartisan Letter Urging Congress to Pass GUARD Act
Introduced in early August in the House of Representatives, the GUARD Act has garnered nationwide support from veterans’ lobbying groups, outreach programs, and even state-level government officials. On August 8, forty-four Attorneys General signed an open letter to Congress urging the body to pass the proposal.
Spearheaded by the AGs of Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, and California, the letter was published by the authoritative National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). The “non-partisan national forum” enumerates and denounces the activities which prompted the legislation and reconfirms the country’s commitment to honoring veterans – and protecting those “disproportionately targeted for financial victimization”.
Spike in VA Disability Claims Fraud After PACT Act and Budgetary Expansions
Although unaccredited claims sharks have successfully evaded oversight and regulations with impunity ever since 2006, recent events have greatly contributed to the proliferation of VA claims fraudulence. The ratification of the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 drastically expanded VA disability benefits, especially for toxic substance exposure.
Spying an opportunity to prey on eligible claimants, “unaccredited and unscrupulous actors” undertook telemarketing campaigns and online outreach initiatives to attract clients. Moreover, the VA’s ballooning annual budget from 2019 to 2023 only intensified the attractiveness of establishing fraudulent operations.
VA Unveils Anti-Fraud Educational Outreach Initiative
In an effort to combat the tidal wave of fraudulence from unaccredited companies, the VA has undertaken an extensive anti-fraud educational campaign in recent months. Championed by the Department’s Secretary, the initiative includes digital instructionals and directions on discovering and reporting incidents of attempted or successful fraud through the VA’s Office of Integrity and Compliance (OIC).
The VA Deputy Chief of Staff, Maureen Elias, was keen to note the tactics employed by claims sharks, including charging astronomical fees. As a one-time victim of VA disability benefits fraud herself, Elias stated that the Department must “oversaturate” veterans with information on how to detect and report illicit activities from malignant actors.
North Carolina Class Action Against Unaccredited Claims Company
A unique and first-of-its-kind lawsuit arose in the Superior Court of North Carolina in late August 2023, alleging that a prominent VA claims company charged clients excessive service fees and lacked both VA accreditation and a legal license. The plaintiffs in the case have requested that the court consolidate the cases under a class action lawsuit.
Although the company in question has vociferously denied the charges, the alleged misconduct is par for the course with unaccredited actors and was the chief impetus behind the introduction of the GUARD Act of 2023.
How to Detect Unaccredited VA Claims Companies
Exploiting ubiquitous feelings of frustration amongst disability benefits claimants, unaccredited companies often promise veterans far more than they can possibly deliver. After misleading claimants with false commitments about their companies’ services, they often request that veterans and their dependents:
- Provide login information to VA systems
- Disclose highly confidential information, like SSNs
- Pay via money transfers or gift cards
If you are currently pursuing a disability benefits claim with the VA and have received emails, texts, cold calls, or have seen alluring online advertisements that all but guarantee an increase in your disability rating, you may be a potential target for financial victimization.
The Importance of Seeking a VA-Accredited Representative
Although the surge in unaccredited malefactors is highly alarming, there are, nevertheless, countless legal, licensed, and accredited services at your disposal. The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains an online directory of qualified and approved:
- Veterans Service Officers (VSOs)
- VA-accredited attorneys
- Licensed agents
Aside from drafting a legal contract and repayment plan, the preceding individuals are also trained to possess extensive institutional knowledge about the VA disability benefits system. Pursuant to VA regulations, they can assist you in many or every step of the way, including the:
- Filing of an initial claim
- Submission of Supplemental Claims
- Request for Higher-Level Review(s)
- Appeal to BVA or CAVC
Why Choose Dolman Law for Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
Distinguishing between legitimate and unaccredited services for your VA disability benefits claim can be difficult at times. Given the abundance of inaccurate information from predatory actors, the most important thing you can do to protect your privacy and financial security is to review thoroughly the track records and websites of the services you intend to use.
At Dolman Law Group, PA, transparency and honesty are at the core of our practice. That is why our legal team of VA-accredited attorneys wants to meet with you in person or over the phone to discuss the strength of your claim and the potential disability rating to which you may be entitled.
With over 120 combined years of personal injury law experience and the advantageous connections to prove it, we provide the necessary individualized treatment and resources that give you the best chance at acquiring the compensation you deserve. Whether you need assistance in submitting a Supplemental Claim or preparing for a hearing before the BVA or CAVC, we want to help.
Contact Dolman Law Group for Help with Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
Accessing disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs can prove arduous and tiring as is. When unaccredited and fraudulent services get involved, they increase a claimant’s potential of falling victim to illegitimate financial schemes.
To provide claimants with the most accurate information possible, Dolman Law’s qualified and accredited veterans disability claims lawyers offer free consultations for prospective clients. We can explain the complexities of the VA benefits appeals process and assist you in composing compelling appeals, accessing additional documentation, and filing required VA Forms. Most importantly, we will give you accurate, straightforward, and helpful information on how best to proceed.