American Legion Deputy Director for Benefits and Claims Services Marty Callaghan testified April 27 at a congressional hearing focused on ensuring quality representation during the process of filing a claim for veterans’ benefits.
Initiating a claim for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits can feel daunting and overwhelming. The American Legion provides experienced personnel to assist veterans with their claims free of charge. VA-accredited attorneys and agents provide vital services and work in close coordination with The American Legion and other veterans service organizations to ensure veterans have qualified representation for more complex cases. They provide critical services to veterans, including assistance in obtaining key information to prevail in a claim or appeal.
Their legal skills and training enable them to provide the “appropriate legal analysis for written arguments, with current citations to recent precedent-setting court opinions, to assist veterans in navigating VA’s complex and evolving claims and appeals system,” according to written testimony from The American Legion.
Veterans are facing a serious and growing threat to the claims process as unaccredited, for-profit claims companies that charge for their services prey on veterans, Callaghan told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) Subcommittees on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and Oversight and Investigations.
“These companies often charge veterans five or six times the amount of whatever future increase in monthly benefits they receive — violating the intent of federal regulation, which prohibits the payment of fees based on future benefits compensation,” he said.
Because these companies are not accredited by VA, their activities cannot be monitored by VA’s Office of General Counsel. They do not work in the best interests of our veterans, said Callaghan.
“In their contractual language, some of these companies carefully limit their own responsibilities, making it clear they are not responsible for the actual filing of VA claims,” he said. “They avoid responsibilities that may require any substantial effort. They do not like to involve themselves with pending claims because, as one contract stated, pending claims add a ‘substantial additional workload … these cases are typically a mess and extremely time consuming and we prefer to avoid them at all cost.’”
This, says Callaghan, makes it overwhelmingly clear these unaccredited companies want to make as much money as they can, while doing as little work as possible without considering the veterans.
“Providing claims assistance should not be about the money,” Callaghan told lawmakers. “It should be about service to veterans and their families. The American Legion has been assisting the veterans’ community for more than a century, and we are thoroughly invested in that community. Our dedication goes far beyond filling out some paperwork.”
Callaghan commended VA for recently launching a Fraud Protection Campaign to protect veterans from these for-profit companies, but noted there is much more to be done to protect veterans from profiteering organizations who refuse to abide by VA regulations.
The unaccredited, for-profit companies fail to comply with VA and professional guidelines and inflict serious financial harm on veterans due to the fees they charge.
“They are taking millions of dollars from families who do not deserve such loss,” said Callaghan. “Their quality of life must not suffer from the greed of others. Unaccredited claims companies are bad for our veterans, bad for their families, and bad for our country. What message do we send to the veterans’ community by allowing these companies to grow rich from VA benefits?”
To find an accredited American Legion service officer in your area, please visit www.legion.org/serviceofficers.
You can watch the full hearing on YouTube.