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En español | The 200,000 veterans currently receiving aid and attendance benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs are among those who may be particularly vulnerable to falling victim to scams that prey on their assistance, according to a new government report released Thursday.
Aid and attendance is a type of assistance granted to veterans, most commonly those 80 and older, who need increased pension benefits for everyday activities such as bathing and dressing.
Although the VA combats such forms of fraud, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that it should collect better data and develop more programs to protect this population.
Resources if you think you have been targeted
- Call AARP’s Fraud Watch Network toll-free fraud helpline if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, online or at 877-382-4357. If the scam originated online, also report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
- Contact your state’s veterans affairs office for credible information on qualifying for benefits.
- The federal government’s Military Consumer website has free resources to help veterans, service members and others in the military community fight fraud and make informed financial decisions.
"We are aware of a number of types of threats that are out there. For example, veterans may be getting bad investment advice in connection with these benefits and as a result can lose access to their money,” says Elizabeth Curda, director of education, workforce and income security issues at the GAO. “They can get charged for applying for the benefits when it's supposed to be free, and we've also seen some veterans being targeted for high-interest loans against their future pension benefits.”
The VA does have warnings on its pension website about such scams, along with guidance about how to defend oneself. It also exchanges information with other federal agencies that combat fraud through the Elder Justice Coordinating Council.
But the VA does not collect data on how often veterans are targeted, the types of schemes or the individuals or companies involved.
"It can be hard to measure this exploitation, however, because those who are subjected to scams may not know they are being exploited, and even if they do know they've been scammed, it may not occur to them to report it, or they may be embarrassed,” Curda says.
The report says that if the VA collects better data, it could better handle the threats that veterans face.
"For example, VA might learn that a particular bad actor is pushing schemes to veterans in multiple regions across the country,” she says.
With this information, the agency can then create better strategies, develop material and reach out to veterans where it is most needed.
The GAO said that the VA agreed with the recommendation to collect information on financial exploitation. But instead of addressing fraud on its own, the Veterans Benefits Administration “plans to develop a referral process for beneficiaries to report potential fraud to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel system via a link on the VA website, and to publicize the process to beneficiaries,” the report said.