NEPA’s U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright targeting those who scam older veterans

By Bill O’Boyle

WILKES-BARRE — U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright is co-sponsoring legislation to address “a myriad of scams” that target low-income, older veterans.

Cartwright, D-Moosic, along with U.S. Reps. Blake Farenthold of Texas and Alcee Hastings of Florida, introduced the bipartisan Veterans Care Financial Protection Act of 2014.

The legislation would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to work with other federal agencies and states to address the scams. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Marco Rubio of Florida first introduced the legislation in the Senate.

“I believe that we owe a great debt to those brave men and women who served our country through military service,” said Cartwright.

Cartwright said working with Farenthold, Hastings, Rubio and Warren to address any form of fraud targeted toward older veterans and their hard-earned benefits was a rewarding experience.

“These scams are completely unacceptable and appalling,” Cartwright said. “Our legislation would require greater protections for our nation’s heroes.”

In a news release sent from Cartwright’s office, Farenthold said it was “unfortunate that there are people who want to take advantage of those who have fought for our freedom.”

Hastings said he found it “abhorrent that we even need to consider this legislation.” He said the idea that there are people who seek to defraud those who have sacrificed so much “is sickening.”

According to information provided by Cartwright’s office, the VA offers Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefits to veterans who are eligible for a VA pension and require the aid and attendance of another person to complete basic daily activities.

The release states that scam artists have exploited the A&A program by charging veterans for obtaining the benefit even though the application process is free.

“Additionally, these predators often take control of the veteran’s assets and move them into an irrevocable trust or an annuity, creating significant financial strain for the veteran,” Cartwright said. “This movement of assets may also disqualify the veteran from other assistance, like Medicaid.”

The proposed bill would require the VA to work with other federal agencies and state experts to develop and implement standards that protect veterans from predatory practices. It would also require a study on the implemented standards to determine whether the standards have effectively addressed the scams.

Cartwright said VA approved advisers charge veterans as much as $3,000 or $4,000 to fill out applications for programs and benefits that veterans are not qualified to receive. He said there are some 20,000 VA-approved financial advisers.

Cartwright said the advisers could face charges down the road.

“But that’s cold comfort to veterans who have been ripped off for thousands of dollars,” Cartwright said. “Our bill will … institute adequate oversight for these advisers.”

Cartwright said any veterans with questions should contact The Military Consumer at military.ncpw.gov, or contact his office.

The bill will be reviewed by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Cartwright said he doesn’t expect the bill “to get bogged down,” and it will move rapidly through Congress.