Opinion

Elderly veterans exploited | GUEST OP

Our elderly veterans throughout the Puget Sound region, most frequently in elder care facilities, continue to be exploited. - Courtesy/Thom Stoddert
Our elderly veterans throughout the Puget Sound region, most frequently in elder care facilities, continue to be exploited.
— image credit: Courtesy/Thom Stoddert

By Thom Stoddert, U.S. Army retired
For the Reporter

Exploitation of elderly veterans is happening throughout the Puget Sound region, most frequently in elder care facilities.

Unscrupulous business people usually from the financial, legal or some other related field, will appear as an advocate by telling veterans and their widows of a little known Veterans Affairs (VA) benefit that can help with medical expenses. They present themselves as patriotic, valuable members of the community, even wrap themselves in the Bible. They want to help veterans and widows apply for the Department of Veterans Affairs Pension Program and/or Aid & Attendance.

What does the VA really have?

There is, among several programs administered by the VA, a pension program for veterans or widows of veterans who are too disabled to work and have military duty during a period of war. The veteran does not need to have been in combat. Since the pension benefit was never intended for every veteran, the minimal financial worth requirement must also be met. This is usually about less than $80,000, and this is where the "Pension Poachers," as they are called in the other Washington, come in.

Agents from very patriotic sounding organizations want to help a veteran or widow make a claim for this program. Several things can happen at this point. They will attempt to sell financial products so as to reposition-lower (or as the VA calls it "hiding") the claimant's real financial worth. They may even charge the claimant a fee for legal or financial services. Affidavits collected by legitimate veteran service officers document how a lawyer and a financial planner (poachers) tried to sell an elderly Seattle couple products, making them very suspicious. This was during the course of filing a claim to the VA. When that failed, they tried to charge the couple hundreds for legal costs.

There are many other problems generated by these so-called advocates. The first is that they put the veteran or widow into jeopardy with the VA for falsely appearing impoverished and receiving federal money that was not intended for them. The VA can put a lien on all future benefits and/or demand repayment.

Worse, after working with these businesses the claimant will most likely need Medicare within the next five years. The poachers used a loophole in VA law in that it does not have a "look back" period. However, Medicare has a five year look back time in which it assesses the vet's financial worth. After purchasing financial products, usually poor quality, from the poacher, the claimant appears eligible for the VA, but not for Medicare. So when the vet or spouse could have gotten help from the VA and Medicare, they are still left with only the lesser paying VA to help pay their medical bills.

Experience has taught Joel Estey of King County Veteran Services and Cindy Kartes of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, both ethical service officers, that too often the business-person will try to qualify a veteran or widow for a VA pension, when they were also qualified for much better paying benefit programs such as Service Connected Compensation (S/C comp) and the Dependants Indemnity Compensation (DIC). The false advocate does not discuss these programs, because there is no financial payoff they can exploit. "The claimant is left humiliated" wrote Dick Sayre, a Spokane attorney, in the Elder Newspaper for Thurston County.

Bob Ferguson, the Washington State Attorney General posted a website – www.atg.wa.gov/VeteranMilitaryResources.aspx – as an aid for the veteran community. The VA has all its information at . You can also call 1-800-827-1000 and speak to a VA employee; the best time is after 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.

VA services are always free, never a charge or fee, no strings attached. Should you have a complaint, visit www.atg.wa.gov/FileAComplaint.aspx. Fergusson and his conscientious staff have aggressively watched these organizations and want to hear from victims.

Thom Stoddert, SFC. U.S. Army, ret., is a staff writer for the Veterans' Voice. Reach him at 360-239-1925 or StoddertWork@gmail.com.

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