America’s post-9/11 wounded veterans are facing significant financial challenges. According to the latest Annual Warrior Survey from Wounded Warrior Project®, 42% of warriors registered with the nonprofit reported in summer 2021 not having enough money to make ends meet in the past 12 months. In addition, 13% of WWP warriors reported being unemployed at this time, compared to 5% of the U.S. general population.
Thankfully, many veterans have financial support through their benefits obtained via the Department of Veterans Affairs. America’s wounded veterans have earned their benefits through their sacrifice and service. However, the current process of applying for disability, rating changes, or pensions with VA can be confusing and daunting. Veterans often rely on trained specialists who help them navigate this claims process.
That is why organizations like WWP and the Veterans of Foreign Wars provide VA-accredited professionals to ensure that benefits claims are filed properly and efficiently — and veterans never pay a penny for this expert assistance.
Sadly, some non-accredited businesses seek to prey on our most vulnerable veterans and take advantage of this complicated process to make a quick buck. Some firms charge excessively for assistance in filing VA claims, even promising to increase disability ratings or to get veterans disability in the first place. This is especially bad if warriors are tricked into signing a contract.
COVID-19 only exacerbated these challenges through appointment cancellations and isolation. In this uncertainty, some veterans turned to the internet for answers, only to quickly be targeted by aggressive online ads and predatory tactics. Veterans, their family members, and the public need to be aware of these methods and tricks so we can combat this issue together.
Veterans should look out for some of the following tactics:
- Promises or guarantees to increase disability ratings and secure “X” amount percentage increases.
- Companies advertising services that are done faster or better than a veterans service organization or accredited agents.
- Requesting sensitive login credentials to access the veteran’s info through secure VA websites like eBenefits or VA.gov.
- Using confusing tactics or ambiguous language in contracts designed to mislead the veteran.
- Offering health consultation within their own network of doctors and telling veterans to forego VA exams for a faster decision.
If a veteran sees any of these red flags, they should immediately ask, “are these organizations accredited with VA?” If the answer is no or somehow ambiguous, or if an organization offers to help warriors with their claim but refuses to go on record with VA as their representative, veterans should work with someone else.
Legally, only VA-accredited individuals and organizations should assist veterans and their families with benefits claims. When accredited organizations like VFW and WWP work with veterans, benefits specialists will never ask warriors to sign confusing contracts.
The only “contract” organizations will ask for is VA Form 21-22, which not only puts us on record with VA as the advocate for a veteran, but also binds that organization to laws and regulations that protect warriors from predatory fees and contracts.
VA provides a searchable database of free, accredited VSO representatives, attorneys, and agents to help veterans navigate the benefits process and avoid unscrupulous tactics. That list updates constantly and is one of the best ways that veterans and families can ensure they’re not getting scammed or preyed upon.
Outside of the veterans service organization and military service organization community, the American people can also be there for these warriors by helping spread the word about predatory practices and the numerous resources for reputable benefits claims assistance.
We all want to ensure warriors get the benefits they’ve earned in a manner that honors their service. If you need assistance with your benefits claims, reach out to VFW, WWP, or another VA-accredited organization. You’re not alone, and it takes strength to ask for help.
Mike Stoddard is the Wounded Warrior Project National Service Director and Ryan Gallucci serves as the VFW National Service Director.
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