VA could better protect veterans from financial scams, watchdog report says

Abbie Bennett
October 04, 2019 - 3:29 pm

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Wartime, older and disabled veterans who have VA pensions or receive other financial benefits can be especially vulnerable to scams and exploitation. The Department of Veterans Affairs could do more to protect those veterans, a watchdog report says.

Scams that target these vulnerable veterans or surviving family members include selling bad investment advice and charges for services that should be free, according to a recent VA Government Accountability Office report.

There's a lot of money potentially at risk. 

VA paid $3.2 billion in total pension benefits to about 232,000 veterans and beneficiaries in fiscal year 2018. Most of those recipients were among the most vulnerable -- veterans and family members older than 80. 

The report detailed several ways the VA could fall short of protecting those veterans: 

  • not centrally collecting and analyzing information such as complaints made against companies. This information could help uncover or counter such scams and aid law enforcement.
  • not warning veterans about potential exploitations and scams, such as telling them they can't be charged fees for filing claims. 
  • not always verifying direct-deposit information on applications, which could lead to those payments being stolen. 

In response to the report, VBA says it plans to review its processes to find the most efficient, cost-effective way to verify direct-deposit information, adding it will complete an analysis of how to do that by Jan. 15, 2020, but has no timeline for when a change would be implemented.

Despite those efforts VA's "proposed actions do not fully address our concerns," the GAO report said. 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is also recommending that VA:

  • Collect better information on potential financial exploitation; 
  • Warn veterans about such risks on applications;
  • Examine if it should take more steps to verify veteran direct deposit information. 

"VA concurs with GAO’s recommendations and has a comprehensive plan in place to implement them," VA spokeswoman Susan Carter said in a statement to Connecting Vets. 

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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