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Veterans: Don’t feed the ‘claim sharks’

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Hagadone News Network | February 8, 2024 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Sharks are circling local veterans. They’re not out for blood, but for a cut of disability compensation benefits.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has warned of an increase in email, phone and social media scams targeting veterans to access benefits or submit claims on their behalf.

Many scams are related to the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act, known as the PACT Act, which expands health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances. The law affects an estimated five million veterans who were exposed to toxins during the Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras.

PACT Act scammers may contact veterans and falsely claim to be a VA employee or say they can help veterans receive benefits in exchange for a fee.

“Some are legitimate and some aren’t,” said Roy Reel, chair of the Kootenai County Veterans Council. “You have to do your homework. Some of them are just crooks.”

Reel said claim sharks falsely present themselves as accredited claims representatives, but in reality they take advantage of veterans and put their benefits at risk.

“They portray themselves as accredited but they’re not,” Reel said. “They’ve received no training, but they’ll take the veteran’s money to file the claim. When and if the claim is approved, they take a portion of the award.”

Accredited claims representatives are subject to VA standards. They’ve also completed training that enables them to give qualified assistance when preparing claims for disabled veterans. Fees, if any, are limited.

Unaccredited claims representatives, however, are not subject to the same standards. They may use aggressive tactics through the mail, the internet or over the phone to take advantage of veterans and their families, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Reel said these scammers charge exorbitant fees to file claims that VA-accredited claims officers will do for free. Their goal isn’t to help a veteran to receive a benefit but instead to add on costs or hidden fees for services.

“If a veteran needs to file a claim, the first place he needs to go is to his county veterans services officer,” he said.

For Kootenai County residents, that’s Veteran Services Director Tom Freeman. To make an appointment, call 208-446-1090.

Shoshone County residents can call 208-752-1264 to reach the county veterans services office.

Veterans can confirm whether a representative or firm is accredited by using a tool on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

The tool is available at www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation.

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