During a Feb. 1 virtual event, veterans were provided tips on keeping their identity secure. Included in the event was information on how veterans now eligible for benefits through the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 can also stay safe from scammers.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Privacy Service’s “Protecting the PACT Act Benefits from Identity Theft Scammers” featured two specialists in the field: Carol Kando-Pineda, counsel, Division of Consumer and Business Education, Federal Trade Commission; and Monica Rivera, chief stakeholder and Organizational Change Management, Benefits Delivery Protection and Remediation, Office of Financial Management, Veterans Benefits Administration
While going over tips that veterans and other consumers can follow to stay safe from identity theft, Rivera closed with advice for PACT Act benefits filers.
“First of all, we want to urge veterans and their dependents to try, as much as possible, to try to apply for these benefits using our online platform,” Rivera said. “In the event veterans are not able to file their claim (online), I would remind veterans and their dependents that they can go to one of our (Regional Offices) … in person if they want to do that. Or they can call us via phone at 1-800-827-1000.”
Rivera warned veterans of companies attempting to file on behalf of them. “I want to remind veterans that they need to be very cautious of companies advertising that only with their help can they get the benefits they deserve,” she said. “In addition to that, please make sure that you pay a lot of attention to those aggressive companies that are trying to put a lot of pressure on the veteran to rush in and sign a contract. I would remind veterans to be careful of any companies … that might be contacting them claiming to be a call on behalf of the VA or claiming to have any affiliation with the VA.”
Rivera urged veterans to work with a service organization or representative with proper accreditation. An American Legion-accredited service officer can file PACT Act benefits on behalf of a veteran or dependent at no charge. Find an American Legion service officer here.
Rivera said veterans should never provide their Social Security number, medical records or any other identifiable information “to anyone who’s offering claims assistance if it’s not someone you have been working with or a VA employee or an accredited representative. Do not sign a contract agreeing to pay a percentage of your benefits in exchange for assistance with your VA claim.
“Do not be fooled by law firms and companies advertising that they have special relationships with VA medical professionals. This is not true, because VA has the necessary tools and procedures in place that will ensure your claim is processed timely in a legal manner.”
The American Legion already has expressed concern about veterans being taken advantage of by predatory law firms attempting to collect higher-than-normal fees for representing them in toxic exposure cases resulting from being stationed at Camp Lejeune. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act became law as part of the PACT Act. In October 2022, The American Legion and the law firm Bergmann & Moore entered into a memorandum of understanding which the firm that provides veterans benefits consultation for accredited Legion service officers can help potential plaintiffs understand the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
That same month, the Legion’s National Executive Committee passed Resolution 15: Oversight of Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which reads in part, “Whereas, predatory law firms charging exorbitant fees have engaged in aggressive marketing campaigns … The American Legion urges Congress to provide the necessary oversight during the implementation of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act to ensure veterans receive fair consideration of their lawsuits and protections against predatory law firms.”