Senate Investigation on Pension Poachers

Debbie meets with Senator Wyden

Debbie meets with Senator Wyden

For the past 3 months I have been assisting the U.S. Senate with an ongoing investigation involving individuals and companies that have exploited the VA’s Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit.

These individuals have put thousands of senior veterans and their widows at risk due to their greed for profits and for the sake of filling up a building by selling inappropriate financial products.

At issue is the Independent and Retirement properties owned by one of the largest groups in the country that have “promised” people they would qualify for this pension in spite of the fact their properties do not include assistance with day-to-day living.

As a result of their exploitation, the Senate is now looking at evoking a 3-year look back period in order for the veteran or widow to qualify.

The greed on the part of this company and one particuliar individual  has indeed put the Aid and Attendance Pension at risk for the very veteran or widow is was intended for.

I would encourage anyone who may be impacted by the Senate’s considered action to contact your Senator or Congressperson and object to the look-back as a means to address the abuse of Aid and Attendance.

This action will only ultimately hurt the veteran who will have yet another loophole to jump through in receiving this award.

If you have an interest in watching the hearing, you may do so at this link.

I am proud to have been a resource for the investigators during this inquiry, and that my Statement of Record is part of the hearing.

I am also proud that NBC 12 News decided to do a piece on my efforts for the June 8th, 2012 newscast.  You can see a copy of the video by clicking here.

United States Senate
Special Committee on Aging
Washington, DC 20510-6400

June 6, 2012

Honorable Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I respectfully submit this statement for the record as the proud daughter of a WWII veteran, as well as a daughter who knows what it is to be desperate, out of hope, options, resources, and money to care for aging parents. I faced this challenge for 9 years with my Mom and Dad.

I am also the Founder of VeteranAid.org, a non-profit organization I founded in 2005 that is the #1 nationally ranked website dedicated to the VA’s Improved Pension with a primary focus on the Aid and Attendance level. The site was founded based off my personal experience of having filed for the pension for my mother as the widow of a veteran, who died in 2005, without every receiving a penny from her approved application. The impact of our family not knowing about this pension benefit during my parent’s time of need is that there would have been over $160,000 to offset the extraordinary cost of their monthly care over those 9 years, which my parents nor we as a family could afford.

There were no seminars being held back in 1996, and finding information on this pension was a futile effort. According to the VA, it did not exist, when in fact it has been an entitlement for the past 61 years sitting idle, unknown, and hidden while millions upon millions of older veterans and their widows have done without or were forced to live in sub-standard care facilities where none of us would want our loved one to lay their head down. A converted Holiday Inn that reeked of urine is where my parents called “home” after being displaced from a house fire leaving them homeless and in the care of others. The difference of having this pension for my parents would have provided dramatically better options. So for me, my being present at this hearing is personal, very personal.

On that note, I have self-funded the undertaking of VeteranAid.org, and I am not affiliated with any group or agency. I am simply the daughter sharing information and insights about this pension with a mission to give other sons and daughters better choices than we had, and doing what I believe is honoring the sacrifice of service. I am humbled to say that my efforts have changed the lives of tens of thousands of veterans and their widows over the past 7 years.

I have traveled to Washington, DC in the past to meet with various Senators and the staff of the Republican Senate Sub-Committee on Veteran’s Affairs asking for assistance in bringing this pension to light, to put a Bill before Congress, and to address the influx of individuals and companies who have exploited this pension for the sole purpose of duping our veterans and widows for their own financial gain. To address the very reason why this investigation has taken place, and why we are here today. I can only hope that some government official or agency will step up to champion any of my efforts in making this pension as common knowledge as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

The silence on the VA’s part regarding the Improved Pension is exactly what has created the opportunity for individuals, companies, and corporations to leverage themselves to sell financial products, move assets, set up trusts, charge fees, hold seminars, and make false promises. Relationships have been developed between individuals, corporations and facilities to sell financial products in order to fill beds. The financial planning that is done is often done with the salesperson’s commission in mind and not what is in the best interest of the veteran long-term.

It is the VA’s silence and misinformation about this pension that has let a fox into the hen house, and it is our veterans and their families who are paying the price. The combination of greed and silence rarely results in a positive outcome.

The Improved Pension is a “needs based” benefit and is essentially a Veteran’s Welfare program, and is not intended for those who are fortunate enough to have assets and resources to pay for care and services. Yet most of the companies or individuals who are the exploiters of this pension have created business models that allow them to capture those with excessive assets for their own advancement. The VA has allowed the creation of this market by not informing our veterans and their families that this financial resource is available for those in need. The VA is not in the business of protecting assets, and yet those whose livelihood is based on doing so, see it otherwise.

I would invite you to attend one of these seminars given by a financial company who pass themselves off as veteran advocates to learn first-hand the tactics they employ, and be sure to notice the number of brochures and photographs displayed implying how other veterans are receiving their pension. But the most important thing to notice is the veteran or widow that will be ignored once it is learned there is no money or assets to move, and no commission to be made. The very veteran or widow the pension is intended for, the veteran whose daughter has taken out a 2nd mortgage to pay for their parent’s care, who has gone through that money and is now desperate, will not be getting any help from the financial advisor or so called “veteran’s advocate”.

I come before you with a unique perspective as someone who has witnessed the growth of infringements on this pension over the past 7 years through the thousands and thousands of emails and forum postings on VeteranAid.org. Emails and postings that I have personally responded to.

The biggest area of concern I have noted is corporations who have seized this pension as a means to fill a building.

Approximately three years ago an individual who has been using this pension as a calling card to sell annuities to seniors for years, approached one of the largest Senior Living companies. They started by charging $950 to process an application. The communities hung up the “Welcome Veterans” sign and allowed the financial planners access to the veteran population in the hopes of filling beds. It had nothing to do with “caring” for or honoring our veterans or their widows. In cases where an applicant did not meet the criteria medically, the paperwork was fudged – often claiming the applicant needed and received services they did not.

As examples of how this often does not work out in the veteran’s or widows long-term best interest, I offer you the following examples that are true stories.

Carl is a veteran in Independent living who was introduced by that facility to an annuity salesman to get the VA’s Aid and Attendance benefit. He was told to put $135,000 into a retirement annuity for his nephew, all but $12,000 of his assets, and was told if he needed additional money, his nephew could withdraw it. Carl was denied the pension because the VA did not give him a deduction for the Independent Living fee. Carl’s nephew tried to make a withdrawal from the retirement annuity, but was informed he cannot withdrawal from this type of annuity until he is 59. Carl’s nephew is only 50. Carl is 86, and Carl will be out of money and homeless in 10 months.

Mary, a veteran’s widow, moved into another property owned by the same company with the “promise” that their property qualified for the VA pension. When the VA called to talk with the facility manager to validate the services being provided, Mary was informed that her residence did not qualify her for the pension. Mary received a letter from the corporate office a week later informing her she owed over $10,000 in deferred rent, and they wanted payment in full that month. Mary had left a subsidized apartment that she had waited 2 years to move into because she was promised this money was there for her to live in a much nicer place. She had to leave her state and move to NC where she found subsidized housing without a waiting list.

Patrick, is in an AZ property also owned by the same corporation, has only a ¼ of his heart function and 9 stints. Patrick’s application has never even been submitted, and no one has his records although he was assured it was being handled.

William has a freeze on his bank account because he cannot pay for his cost of care, and cannot afford any personal items due to having no money and also in a property owned by the same corporation.

In many cases involving Retirement properties working with financial and estate planners, the VA has approved the applications, only to discover months later upon completion of the VA’s annual Eligibility Verification Report, the applicant was never entitled, so the VA stops the pension, and demands a full repayment of all monies paid. The veteran or widow now owes several thousand dollars back to the VA, has nowhere to go, has incurred a huge debt, and does not have the pension award. But the Retirement Community received the payment and no one is asking them to return it.

Our “Greatest Generation” is for these companies and individuals nothing more than a “target market”. The VA has left them to be victimized by their silence, and the responsibility for these groups and individuals preying on our elderly veteran’s Service rest solely at the front door of the VA.

I offer this analogy to make that point:  If you can legally walk into a liquor store and purchase a bottle of whiskey, what would be the point in chasing down a Moonshiner?

These companies have built fortresses around themselves staffed with attorneys, annuity salespeople, and application processors. They hold weekly seminars around the country always looking for the next victim that has too many assets to qualify for the pension. If there was access to clear, accurate and professional advice, there would be no room for those whose goal is “monetizing the senior”.

My greatest fear is that the findings of this committee will be to recommend evoking a “look back” period as in Medicaid to thwart these financial groups from exploiting our veterans, which will only be putting yet another additional “burden of proof” upon the veteran who already faces enough challenges when dealing with the VA. These companies and individuals who have thrived in this market will simply revamp their business model to become “Veteran Pension Planners” in the same way those who acclimated to Medicaid fraud became Medicaid Planners. It won’t change the landscape of things, it will simply go by another name and give them another door to come through and hang out their sign.

At one time the application for Aid and Attendance was only 4-pages. After the demands for the pension increased, the VA saw fit to increase it into a 17-19-page application not counting supporting documentation. The completing of this application is a daunting task, and most seniors would be overwhelmed with the complexity of doing so. Since the VA makes it difficult to hire competent help, those who offer their services for “free” if you invest in a financial product is extremely attractive – and a lot of times the senior doesn’t understand they have bought a financial product or what it means for future access to the funds or Medicaid benefits.

If the application and the processing of it were as simple as the three basic requirements of eligibility for this pension, most veterans or their families would feel capable to take the task on. But instead the application is so complicated that families turn to the only people making them aware of the benefit, those with other agendas. When the veteran stands in front of the VA defenseless with discharge papers in hand, the prospect of having someone on your side makes for an easy sale.

It seems to me that a simpler solution would be to allow a veteran or widow the right to pay a nominal fee for assistance in completing complicated applications the same as they can pay an accountant or tax-return company to ensure that the IRS has a full financial accounting of the taxpayer. In this scenario there would be no selling of financial products or the restructuring of assets. You either qualify or you don’t. It would simply mean the veteran got it right the first time, and the oath they took to defend this country would be honored as it should be.

It is my belief that many of these companies have at best violated the truth in submitting applications misrepresenting the services they provide, Physicians’ Statements being falsified signed by others than the Physician themselves , and medical fees in excess of what was actually being paid. If it is the findings of this Committee that these individuals or corporations are guilty of exploiting this pension and our Veterans for financial gain, it is my hope as the daughter whose parents did without, that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent that the law will allow.

Respectfully,
Debbie Burak – Founder
VeteranAid.org

Related posts

Did you know?

In today’s world of technology, communications systems are faster than a speeding bullet. Billions of pieces of data are searched with the click...

12 Comments

  • Posted June 10, 2012

    lanna

    im so very proud of you….your efforts on behalf of our veterans and their family members is greatly needed and appreciated by all you touch…i am fortunate that i did not have to go down the VA road…i had the financial resources to take care of my parents & husband and therefore taking from the VA was never considered. although my dad would have qualified i felt there were so many others that didn’t have a daughter that could help that would appreciate the benefits more. david was also a vet and could have accessed the VA here in asheville but again he felt he was fortuante that he didn’t HAVE to and so he didn’t. i am certain there are plenty of us out there that don’t take from those that are in need …..but i know there are plenty that find a way to steal benefits when they are not earned or needed….. your efforts are saluted my friend.

  • Posted June 10, 2012

    Karen

    Well – you know how I feel about all this – but it is wonderful to see at least one of these scammers “on the hot seat”. Let them all start to come crumbling down…..

  • Posted June 12, 2012

    sue

    Great Debbie! you said it all when you said
    “The VA has allowed the creation of this market by not informing our veterans and their families that this financial resource is available for those in need”

    • Posted August 19, 2012

      Debbie

      Thank you Sue.

      Now we need to stop Bill S. 3270 from getting through Committee!

      Debbie

  • Posted June 13, 2012

    Mark Lewis

    If Aid and Attendance wasn’t a benefit just for wartime Vets I might agree with you. However, each wartime vet was asked to write a blank check to the United States of America for an amount up to and including his or her life. So we penalize the veteran or his widow because he worked hard, saved his money and acted responsibly. The VA typically will only allow an 85 yr old Vet $30,000 in assets to qualify. Do we expect his widow to live off $31K or a little more if she lives to be 95? Medicaid isn’t going to pay the full bill for her homecare or ALF cost if the state even has money for it. Let’s reward the service and not just the person who may have not planned very well.

  • Posted June 14, 2012

    Debbie

    Mark,

    I am of the opinion that the VA fails our veterans and their families on a daily basis, and has no accountability for doing so. Truly a disgrace and a failure to honor. If you have read my Open Letter to the VA, I make that point very clear.

    This pension was established 61 years ago to protect a veteran from being without the means to care for themselves or their widow. Keeping in mind the economy then as well as life expectancy, it was a safety net.

    Problem is the VA has not been forthcoming informing veterans about the pension, and it fell into the wrong hands and used for other reasons.

    There is one very large corporation that owns Retirement?Independent properites throughout the US who duped veterans into believing the property qualifed for this pension without any services for care being offered other than what you could contract out for. People sold homes, and moved what little they had after being “promised” they would get this pension when in fact they did not.

    Their actions is what brought this to light when sons and daughters turned to their Senators outraged over what happened. Had it not been for this, more than likely this pension would have remained unknown, while so many did without.

    I don’t know that there is a perfect answer here. I do know that for those who sign that blank check and make the sacrifice should not face a battle with the VA regardless of what the pension or compensation is.

    • Posted June 20, 2012

      xaiverl95@yahoo.com

      Thank You so much for your hard work Debbie………..

      • Posted August 19, 2012

        Debbie

        Thank you!. It is my honor to make a difference for those who make the sacrifice of service.

        Debbie

  • Posted July 13, 2012

    Mary Davis

    I greatly admire and respect what you have gone through and what you have accomplished for others. Your story is very similar to mine. My dad was a WWII vet and I am the oldest with many vivid memories of his service to our great country. From a private in the US Army, fighting at Pearl Harbor, to hunting missing soldiers in Guam, to attending school to advance his career, to being part of the missle installation in Taiwan in 1958-1960, to his retirement and then his employment with McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft after his retirement. He never stopped working for what was good and right. It was really sad to watch him and my mother, who was a strong influence in his life and the lives of us children. Giving up was never an option. So for the past eight years (five with my father who passed away in 2008), I have diligently cared for them 24/7 and was glad to do it. But, like you, I was not aware of aid and attendance until last year. I applied in September, 2011 and have yet to receive and answer. My mother is housebound, and requires around the clock care as did my father. Had I known about the A&A sooner, I would have applied for it. My dad had dementia along with failing eyesight, hearing loss, a broken femur. All of their personal needs, I met. I have a hard time understanding the length of time it takes for the VA to respond to the application for A&A I submitted. Is there someone to contact concerning the delay? It would make a nice difference in my mother’s well being and the other family members. Again, thank you for your hard work and dedication and having a site for family members to reach out to. Bless you, Mary

    • Posted August 19, 2012

      Debbie

      Mary,

      Thank you for your kinds words regarding my efforts.

      You need to contact your Mom’s state Senator or Congressperson and have them make an inquiry to the status of her applicaiton. There is no excuse for this to be coming up on a year without a decision having been made.

      Good luck with it all, and hope you will receive some good news in the very near future!

      Debbie

  • Posted August 3, 2012

    edward maguire

    Debbie,
    I agree with your take on the V A failing veterans every day. I agree with Mark Lewis assessment of the 30K eligible veteran widow and the 31K uneligible veteran widow. The 1k diffeence will have no impact on the quality of her life. However it does impact her eligibilty.
    There is a perfect answer here, I come from a law enforcement background. In all I have read in your blog nowhere does it mention the name of the company or the financial planners who are connected with them. The very people and company that are the abusers are getting a pass here why?
    I have a soft spot in my heart for veterans and old people in general. At the same time that heart has a very hard spot for liars and thieves. I believe in prosecution of people who use a skill set to mislead and enrich themselves. There are any number of prosecutors and regulators who would follow up if given the chance. Debbie we need to hang a few scalps up for these abusers to see what happens by victimizing veterans and seniors.
    Instead of having a look back period of 3 years for A & A allow for cooperation with State Insurance commisioners and FINRA to exchange complaint information with the V A.
    I read everything on your web site and this blog. It appears to me that this discussion is a lot like taking about the weather everyone talks aout it but never does anything to change it. That may be a poor attempt at trying to synthesize a very real and disturbing problem. You have my e-mail address if you need help with the process to expose these bad apples just send me a request for my help. I will be delighted to share my expertise in exposing bad actors in the financial services business.

  • Posted December 31, 2012

    Alfred Bergeron

    I servved from 1959-1963 we were at the ready 24hrs aday and what do we get from the VA ?

Leave a Reply