Government watchdog calls on Veterans Affairs to better protect veterans from scams

NORFOLK, Va. - A government watchdog group is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to do a better job protecting veterans from scams and financial exploitation.

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked at the work of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in dealing with veterans and specifically ways in which veterans might be vulnerable to losing money or being exploited.

According to the newly released GAO report, the VA paid $3.2 billion in pensions to 232,000 veterans in 2018. The majority of them were over the age of 80.

That population is vulnerable to scams including being overcharged for home care, being billed for services they did not receive and getting bad investment advice from organizations.

Knowing the full extent of how many veterans may be victims is difficult. The report states, "individuals may be too embarrassed to report that they have been victimized or hesitant to report if the perpetrator is a family member. Additionally, individuals may simply not recognize that they have been an exploitation victim. Measuring the extent of financial exploitation is complicated by a lack of reliable data."

The GAO faults the VA for not collecting and analyzing information about complaints that could help police go after scammers and also show the prevalence of the scams.

Related: Owner of welding school accused of defrauding Department of Veterans Affairs

The report also says VA applications don't warn about exploitation or scams and that they don't always verify direct deposit information on applications, which can lead to payments being stolen.

"By not assessing the potential risk and costs and benefits of checking banking information, veterans may be at risk of their benefits not being appropriately delivered or misdirected by individuals seeking to take veterans’ benefits," the report states.

They contrast it with the practices of the Social Security Administration, where checks or account statements are reviewed to ensure it matches.

The GAO is recommending that the VA collect information on potential exploitation, put additional warnings on documents and look at verifying direct deposit information.

In a response, the VA said that it concurred or concurred in principle with the recommendations, vowing to place additional warnings on certain forms and review how it verifies direct deposit information.

In terms of collecting better information on exploitation of veterans, however, the GAO says the proposed actions by the VA do not fully address the concerns.

You can read the full report from the Government Accountability Office here.

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