It’s time to reinstate penalties for groups that charge veterans excessive fees for benefits claims consultations, American Legion Legislative Director Lawrence Montreuil testified to Congress on March 29.
During his testimony before the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, Montreuil expressed the Legion’s support for H.R. 1139, the Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act. The bipartisan legislation would reinstate criminal penalties for those who charge veterans unauthorized fees relating to disability claims for benefits.
“Many of these fees, in our opinion, are excessive,” he said, noting that the costs can be $4,000 to $8,000, while The American Legion and other veterans service organizations perform the same service for no charge.
In the past two years, American Legion service officers have successfully secured nearly $31 billion in claims benefits for veterans.
Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., is a co-sponsor of the legislation. “It’s alarming because the more third parties that have a hand in veterans’ claims, the greater potential for fraud and abuse there is, which I’m sure you’ll agree, we must prevent,” he said. “To provide veterans with competent and qualified help and protect them from individuals who may be targeting their benefits, VA has long operated on an accreditation and fees program to provide oversight of those who assist with claims preparation.”
Pappas also noted that under current law, VA is the only organization that can charge individuals for the service. In 2006, Congress stripped away the penalty but kept the law intact. Pappas says his bill will reinstate the penalty.
The testimony was a key part of the subcommittee hearing that also included discussions regarding disability benefits, survivor benefits and outreach.
Montreuil testified just before the Senate voted to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, or AUMFs. The bill now goes to the House.
“Decisions over war and peace are among the most important decisions deliberated in the halls of Congress, and many of the bills that we are discussing today are the end result of the decision to go to war 20 years ago,” he said. “From caring for Gold Star families who lost their loved ones to streamlining claims and appeals process for millions of veterans exposed to burn pits are the direct results of decisions of war and peace.
“Although wars end, our moral obligation to uphold our promise to those who we send into harm’s way, and ensure they receive the care and benefits they rightfully deserve has no expiration date.”