AARP Eye Center
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is warning service members about an increase in scams targeting veterans who are newly eligible for benefits under the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.
The recently signed law expands health care and benefits to an estimated 5 million veterans exposed to toxins during the Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras. That means “older veterans are usually those who are targeted [by such scams],” says Charles Tapp II, chief financial officer of the Veterans Benefits Administration.
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How PACT Act scams work
PACT Act fraudsters may call veterans and falsely portray themselves as a VA employee or claim they can help them receive benefits. They have also sent emails and run commercials promising the same assistance — for a fee. Of course, some will mention specific service locations (North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune is a big one) and/or medical conditions, such as leukemia or liver cancer, that might make a vet eligible for payments.
“I’ve personally seen some of the commercials, in my local area, that have outlined, ‘We’re here to help you if you suffer from this presumptive condition,’ ” says Tapp. “Or the more frequent one is, ‘If you were stationed at Camp Lejeune and you believe you’ve been exposed to contaminated water, please call this number and we’ll help you.’ ”
Besides charging veterans a fee for something that can be obtained for free from an accredited veterans service organization (VSO), other types of benefit scams include:
- In exchange for someone’s military disability benefit, a con artist offers a lump-sum payment that never materializes.
- A phisher impersonating a VA official asks for personal information, such as a Social Security number, saying they need to update the veteran’s records.
Tapp offers some advice for avoiding unscrupulous players:
- If you receive a call or see an advertisement or commercial from a law firm offering assistance with benefits, don’t assume that it is a trustworthy organization.
- Never sign a blank form or agreement with an attorney or company without fully understanding what you are agreeing to.
- A red flag should go up if you’re asked to pay for assistance with obtaining benefits. (Note that when an appeal or supplemental claim is being sought, a fee is not unusual.)
How to apply for benefits
To begin filing a benefit request related to the PACT Act, visit VA.gov/PACT or call 800-698-2411. The VA can help you with any questions during the claims process. If you need more assistance, it recommends using an accredited VSO or attorney to work on your initial claim — a service that is free of charge. “We can certainly ... make sure that our veterans are actually operating with people who are accredited and are scrupulous in terms of their dealings,” says Tapp.
How to protect yourself against PACT Act scams
- Do not provide personal, medical, financial or VA benefit information online or over the phone. Federal agencies will not contact you unless you make a request.
- Do not click on online ads or engage with social media that seems suspicious.
- Look for “https://” at the start of website addresses; that means they’re more likely to be legitimate. Enable multi-factor authentication on all of your accounts, if possible.
- Work with veterans service providers you already know.
- Report any suspected fraud to ftc.gov.
- Also report any VA-related scam to the VA benefits hotline at 800-827-1000.
Source: Department of Veterans Affairs