What to Know About Veteran Pension Poaching
There are nearly 800,000 veterans in Pennsylvania and over half of them are age 60 and older. Veterans may be eligible for a wide array of benefits from both the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA or VA). One such benefit is a VA pension.
Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people who are preying on veterans, particularly older veterans, to profit from the veteran's desire to apply for the benefits they earned while defending our country and our freedoms.
The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) wants you to know that free and safe assistance is available to help veterans and their beneficiaries apply for veteran benefits including VA pension. Here is what you need to know:
What is a VA Pension?
The federal VA defines the VA pension benefit as a monthly payment to eligible veterans of certain wartime periods who meet certain age or disability requirements, and who have income and net worth within certain limits. Additionally, those who can prove that they require the aid of someone else to perform their activities of daily living (e.g. bathing, dressing and eating), or those who are housebound, may be eligible for enhanced pension benefits through Aid & Attendance or the Housebound Allowance. These monthly payments are meant to offset recurring medical or care expenses at home or in a facility. Surviving spouses and children of deceased veterans of certain wartime periods may also be eligible for these benefits. More information about the VA pension benefit can be found at www.va.gov/pension.
What is Pension Poaching?
Pension poaching is financial exploitation targeting veterans and beneficiaries who are potentially eligible for VA pension benefits. Pension poaching comes in several forms but is always an attempt to de-fraud America's heroes.
Some poachers sell financial products of questionable value or charge a fee to restructure assets in order to make the veteran or beneficiary meet income eligibility criteria. Other scams include the promise of pension eligibility for a fee or an offer of a lump sum or advanced loan against a future awarded pension. Other scammers will sell in-home care that is overpriced or is never actually provided to the veteran, while others will cold call veterans and try to sell them assistance in applying for benefits. The scammers request credit card, bank account or other personally identifying information over the phone or through email.
Older Veterans Are Prime Targets
While all veterans should be cautious about who they work with to apply for benefits, statistics show why older veterans are a scammer's prime target. As of 2021, there are about 19 million veterans in the United States. Of those, more than 73 percent are age 50 or older, with more than 37 percent of veterans being age 75 or older. Additionally, 78 percent of veterans served during wartime and are potentially eligible for a pension.
A report released in October 2019 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that as of 2018, 95% of Aid & Attendance recipients were age 65 and older and 68% of recipients were age 85 and older.
Many veterans and their beneficiaries apply for VA pension at a point of intense need or in a time of crisis. The application process and required supporting documentation can be overwhelming and to find assistance through the process, veterans or their beneficiaries may unknowingly engage with scammers and dishonest financial planners who charge for "help".
Avoid Scammers and Poachers by Always Using an Accredited Veteran Service Officer (VSO)
Veterans and their advocates should never pay for assistance to apply for veterans' benefits. Federal and state laws make provisions for accredited veteran service officers (VSO) to provide free advice and assistance for veterans to apply for their veterans' benefits. This includes assistance with completing and filing applications. These experienced men and women are certified professionals who are well-trained and provide great advice to veterans.
Veterans and their beneficiaries should never pay…
- For forms or to submit applications
- To restructure assets in order to "qualify"
- For the promise of eligibility for a pension
- To receive a lump sum payment on a pension
There are approximately 200 accredited veteran service officers in Pennsylvania who work within organizations such as the DMVA, county veterans affairs offices and several veterans service organizations.
In addition to pensions, accredited veteran service officers provide veterans and their dependents free assistance to identify, determine eligibility for and apply for a wide range of benefits on the local, state and federal levels, including:
- Payment of burial allowances
- Ensuring grave markers and headstones are properly requested and placed
- The Disabled Veterans Real Estate Tax Exemption Program
- Veterans Temporary Assistance
- Blind and Paralyzed Veterans pensions
- The Education Gratuity Program
- Service-connected disability and non-service-connected disability pensions
- Federal health care benefits
- Survivor benefits
A complete list of county directors and their contact information can be found here: County Directors of Veterans Affairs. Contact information for Veteran Service Organizations VSOs can be found here: Veteran Service Officers Contact Information.
What if You Suspect or Have Experienced a Pension Poaching Scam?
If you suspect or experience a scam or financial exploitation related to any Veteran benefit, including a VA pension, file a report immediately with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Military and Veterans Affairs section via one of the methods listed below: