Veterans could be targets of pension poaching scams
If you currently receive VA pension payments or if you are thinking about applying for Veterans Pension, Survivors Pension, or Aid and Attendance (A&A) and housebound benefits, you could be the target of a scam known as pension poaching. Don’t let scammers take advantage of you. Read on to see how you can protect the benefits you have earned.
What is pension poaching?
Every year, VA distributes a billion dollars in pension payments to help low-income Veterans who served in wartime and their families through financial challenges. Pension poaching is a financial scam that targets Veterans, survivors and family members who may be eligible for these benefits. The most popular type of pension poaching occurs when dishonest people falsely qualify Veterans and survivors for VA pension benefits. These individuals may be attorneys, "financial planners" or "benefits advisors."
Veterans should be on the lookout for people or organizations who:
Attempt to sell you financial products (especially annuities) so you can qualify for the VA Pension
Are telling you that they can guarantee the Pension
Charge you money for assisting with a VA Pension claim
Are telling you that they will get your VA Pension for free (though you must expect that, at some point, they will attempt to sell you a product that is most likely not what you need).
The people behind these pitches, who may claim to be Veterans' advocates, also show up at assisted living facilities, senior centers, or other places in your community as if they are there to help the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Often, they are financial planners or insurance agents who deliver lunch, dinner, or some snacks. These so-called advisers may claim to be Veterans to gain your trust. They appeal to your emotions to create anxiety and apprehension about your future. As a rule, they leave out important details. The truth is, if you follow their advice, you will likely end up without the VA Pension benefits they promise. You could also end up disqualified from other government benefits, and stuck in a financial investment that is not in your or your family's best interest for the long term.
Protecting yourself from financial scammers
The most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family from pension poaching is to know the facts. Here are the top things you should know to keep your benefits safe.
Only approved individuals can help you file a claim. In addition to working directly with VA, there are three types of representatives that can help you with your claim: Veterans Service Organizations, attorneys and agents. VA’s Office of the General Counsel maintains a searchable list of approved individuals. Always check this list before discussing your pension benefits with anyone outside of VA.
You do not need to pay to submit your application. VA does not charge to process your application. No one can charge you to prepare or file an initial application without breaking federal law.
No one can guarantee that you will receive benefits from VA. Even accredited individuals on the Office of the General Counsel list cannot guarantee that you will receive VA pension benefits after you apply. Only VA can determine eligibility and award benefits and services.
VA benefits can only go directly to Veterans or survivors. Pension payments cannot be placed into a caregiver’s account.
Keep these four tips in mind when applying for VA pension benefits and you can “Spot a Scam, Stop a Scam” before it happens.
Visit VA.gov to learn more about VA Pension benefits. You can also call 1-800-827-1000 or contact your local regional office. For additional information on protecting yourself from pension poaching, check out the Pension Poaching Prevention and Pension Program and Representation fact sheets.