Protecting Those Who Have Protected Us-Fighting Veterans Claim Fraud and Abuse
By Joseph Sapien, Veteran Service Officer for Los Angeles County Veterans Affairs
November 01, 2016
As a Veteran Service Officer, VSO, in Los Angeles County, I am frequently asked “Is it necessary or worth it to use an attorney or some other professional group to assist in claiming VA benefits.” The true answer is yes, this can be beneficial as long as the veteran understands how to proceed. However, there are many groups out there who are just trying to scam a veteran out of their money.
Here are a few tips to assist a veteran in filing a VA claim:
Use an Accredited Attorney, Claim Agent and VSO representative
- To verify if the person you are using is accredited,
I know this seems like a lot of trouble, but it is very important. A veteran will be providing their social security number, birth date, address and banking information to the individual who will be assisting them. It is very important to verify that they are a creditable resource. The veteran may also be giving their spouse’s and children’s information. If this person is a scammer, the veteran just handed over access to their whole lives, so it is worth every effort to check these individuals and groups out first. For instance, if you type my name, Joseph Sapien into the VA verification system link given above, my name will appear along with the state where I am located. This gives the veteran an assurance that I am truly an accredited VSO representative.
There are also non-profit groups that are established to assist veterans? Are they safe?
The thing about non-profit groups is that there are many of them with similar names, logos or symbols that make it very difficult to ascertain which ones are creditable and which ones are bogus. There is a website called Charity Watch www.charitywatch.org which gives ratings on these non-profit groups, so the veteran knows how the money is being spent.
- No one, including me or any other certified VSO should be charging you any money to file a claim.
- Attorneys can charge only AFTER a claim is in the Notice of Disagreement (NOD) or Appeal stage. Attorneys generally charge 20% of the back pay for a claim, although I have seen that fee go up to 33%.
- If a non-profit assistance group wants you to pay a “membership fee”, or anything to that effect before helping you, do not use them.
- If anyone is promising the veteran a guarantee that the veteran will get a certain disability percentage, an exact amount of money or that the claim will be done on a certain date be very wary. We provide estimates on what we think will happen, or what we think the timeline will be, but there is NO guarantee when filing a disability claim, as there are many factors involved.
As a veteran myself, trust me, I understand the stress and confusion of trying to file a claim, along with what a veteran can file for in the first place. Even if someone is accredited, it does not mean they always know what they are doing. The accreditation is just to allow the veteran or client representation services. It does not guarantee knowledge or ability. My advice is to get a feel for that person who wants to help the veteran and talk to other veterans that may have used this group or individual in the past.
If you have any questions you can contact me at Josephjsapien@gmail.com. I hope the advice and resources help you make an informed decision.
Thank you for your interest in protecting those who have fought to protect us.