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AARP Poll Reveals Veterans Susceptible to PACT Act Fraud

Veterans who don’t know claims can be filed for free may be more vulnerable


spinner image a collage of photos showing veterans and information about the pact act
Photo Collage: Paul Spella

A new AARP survey suggests that many veterans are not aware that PACT Act claims can be filed for free, making them more susceptible to fraud.

The findings echo a warning from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) about an increase in PACT Act scams targeting veterans through email, phone and social media to gain access to their benefits or file claims on their behalf.

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The PACT Act, made law in August 2022, expanded 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.

AARP survey results

AARP found that nearly two-thirds of service members don’t know they can get free help with filing a PACT Act claim. Being unaware of these free services makes veterans vulnerable to predatory tactics con artists use to reach veterans and steal their benefits or charge them phony fees for filing a claim on their behalf.

One in six veterans surveyed said they received a call from someone offering PACT Act filing assistance, often from someone claiming to be from the VA. This is another red flag because the VA does not conduct phone outreach campaigns regarding benefits, it told AARP. It only calls a veteran if it requires clarification on a pending claim. 

One in 10 veterans who received a phone solicitation said they were guaranteed a lucrative payout, another clear sign of a scam, according to AARP experts.

The survey included 887 veterans ages 18 and older and was conducted from April 28 to May 4, 2023, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

How to avoid PACT Act scams

  • Never pay for help with filing VA benefits or obtaining military records.
  • For help with filing a claim, refer to the list of veteran service organizations (VSO), agents and attorneys who are accredited representatives by the VA.
  • If someone calls claiming to be from the VA, hang up and contact the VA directly at 1-800-827-1000.

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 also send emails and run commercials promising the same assistance — for a fee. 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,’ ” Tapp says. “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.’ ”

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Besides charging veterans a fee for something that can be obtained for free from an accredited veterans service organization, 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 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,” Tapp says.

Applications may be submitted securely via VA.gov or in person at any regional office. 

More ways 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 multifactor authentication on all of your accounts, if possible.
  • Work with veterans service providers you know.
  • Report any suspected fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.
  • Report any VA-related scam to the VA benefits hotline at 800-827-1000.

Source: Department of Veterans Affairs

AARP’s Veterans Fraud Center is an online education and resource hub with information on the latest scams targeting the military community, tips for spotting other types of consumer fraud, and specially tailored resources to help protect veterans and military families.

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