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.
Debbie Burak – Founder