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Letter to Senator Wyden

Debbie Meets with Senator Wyden

Debbie Meets with Senator Wyden

August 1, 2012

Dear Senator Wyden:

As someone who assisted the Senate Committee on Aging with the investigation on “Pension Poachers”, I respectfully must say that I am incredibly disappointed at the outcome of this investigation.

I worked with Investigators for three solid months leading up to the hearing held on June 6, 2012.

I spent countless hours scouring thousands of VeteranAid.org emails and forum postings along with reaching out to my resources in order to provide critical information to investigators clearly showing the individuals and companies that should have been the focus of the investigation.

All the while in doing so, I was under the impression that the goal of this investigation was to identify those who had committed fraud associated with this pension, and to criminalize the activities of specific individuals and companies.  I thought someone was finally going to put an end to this “illegal” exploitation of our senior veterans and their families. I would not have cooperated to the extent that I did had I believed otherwise.

Due to my unique position with my work, I was able to provide Investigators incredible insights, information, and incriminating documentation regarding those individuals and companies who have deliberately duped our veterans and their families.  It seems that very little if anything was done with this information.

To quote from one investigator’s emails to me:

“Debbie,

It’s been wonderful working with you these past few months. You were invaluable to this hearing! Veterans across the country are lucky to have you as an advocate”.

I provided individuals to speak with along with former employees who had worked for some of the companies who were willing to share insider information to include an excel spreadsheet listing over 3,000 veterans and widows who had been promised and hoodwinked by XXXXXX Corporation.

None of these individuals were called to testify, and the fact that only one subpoena was issued is at best suspect.

While the Senate’s investigation looked at all the offenders and perpetrators who have exploited this pension, I have to ask why was VA Accredited Attorney, Douglas Ocker not sitting at the witness table to face Kris S., whose parents were duped by him through a XXXXXX property asking him to explain himself and his actions?

The bigger question is why was no one there representing XXXXXXX Corp, who has single-handedly done more harm than all others combined in fraudulently using this pension to fill their 300+ Independent/Retirement properties that do even not meet the qualification of providing assistance with daily living?

With documentation being provided showing that XXXXXX Corp submits fraudulent applications claiming that the veteran or widow is paying the market rate at the “Independent” facility, when in fact they are not, and that they imply that services are being provided which are not, begs the question as to why a subpoena was not issued for their appearance.  The biggest offender in all of this is not called before the Committee?  How much desire could there have been to truly get to the bottom of this issue?   (For insights as to how employees feel about working at this company, you can read here – http://blog.dlcharles.com/2012/03/01/beneath-the-veil-part-6.aspx)

These actions are no different from those who commit Medicaid fraud by claiming bogus expenses and services provided.  I am confident that there are legal ramifications for doing so, and I am unclear as to how this would not have been the primary focus of the investigation and concern of the Committee.

It appears that having Emily Schwarz present at the hearing held June 6, 2012, as the representative of Veteran’s Financial Services served the sole purpose of justifying the need for a look back being put into place rather than addressing the issue of those who have essentially committed fraud and left thousands of veterans in the same situation that Kris Schaffer now finds her father in.

While the actions of Veteran’s Financial are inarguably despicable, under current VA law, they have committed no actual “crime”.   I believe this was just the better story to use as an example to make a point, while Greg M., Glen O., and others who truly are the components that have toppled this VA benefit with their greed go without vetting and accountability.

If you truly wanted to make a statement of what happens to individuals who violate this pension, all you had to do was bring forth criminal charges and set someone out there as an example of what will happen to anyone who infringes on our veterans and fraudulently uses this pension. If your concerns were to protect our senior veterans from the likes of these companies and individuals, you would have arrived at another conclusion as a solution in dealing with this.  Not doing so left more questions than answers.

This Pension has been sitting idle on the VA books for 61 years, while millions have missed out simply due to a lack of being informed about it, and nobody seemed to have a problem with that as long as it remained unknown and underutilized.

Now that this pension has become more publicized, there is this “call to action”, but rather than holding those responsible for having exploited this pension, and committing fraud, or demanding an explanation from the VA as to why they have failed to inform our veterans about this resource, your answer to this is to impose a “look back”, while the true offenders get a pass on this and get to continue business as usual, and the VA gets another way to delay payment.  Where was the outcry for the previous 61 years?

Am I to understand that you are ok with the fact the VA is already taking 9-18 months to award this pension, which in itself is unacceptable given that this is a non- service-connected pension and not “compensation”?  There are three simple qualifiers that make this an either you do, or you don’t qualify, and there simply is no excuse to be offered here for the current delays.

With three pension centers in the country dedicated to the processing of applications for Aid and Attendance, there is no legitimate reason that a fully developed claim with all supporting documentation taking any longer than 60 days at most for processing and award for those who qualify.

If the IRS can keep up with the advancements in technology and use them to streamline the filing of income-tax returns, it is not unreasonable to hold the VA to the same standard.  It is very telling in the intention that the only Federal agency that can process volumes of paperwork seamlessly is the IRS.

VA employees fail open book tests, and are lacking educational opportunities giving them the proper tools to truly assist our veterans.    They are forced to work off production quotas that are attached to “bonus” driven incentives.  At state and local levels the education  and training of County Service Officers is even less. To add 36 months worth of banking statements to a system that is flawed and can’t handle the work flow as it exists now, is a disaster in the making.

Have you even considered the challenge families will face in trying to obtain 36 months worth of bank statements who may not already hold POA, or the frequency in which the VA claims to have not received a specific document, or the cost associated with requesting all these copies or providing them more than once?

How can one justify that a 94-year old widow who literally has nothing has been waiting 16 months for a decision from the VA, and is on Hospice care.  It is doubtful she will live to see the decision letter arrive.

What about this 94- year old veteran waiting 7 years featured in the Houston Chronicle on July 9, 2012?

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/94-year-old-World-War-II-veteran-from-Houston-3691979.php

Or more recently this 92-year old veteran potentially being evicted this past Thursday waiting on the VA.

http://www.wftv.com/news/news/local/92-year-old-wwii-vet-danger-being-evicted-nursing-/nP4nd/

Did the VA step up on this? No they did not.  I am the one who contacted the station, the reporter, and Senator Nelson’s office asking for them to intervene on his behalf.

I think out of all that was taken into consideration during this investigation, the Committee circumvented the VA’s daily failings of our veterans for another agenda.  You have not addressed the problem, but rather an unfortunate circumstance that came about due to the VA’s 61 years of silence.  Silence that created the market for these “poachers” to thrive in.

Are you aware that on average every day in this country 1,369 veterans 70 or older die?

Do you know that the largest growing segment of our population is centenarians?

Bill S.3270 will not have any impact on the “Pension Poachers”.  They will simply target the veteran population a little earlier than they do now to avoid the 3-year look back.  If anything, they will, and already are using it to their advantage to alarm individuals to act now prior to the bill going into affect.  Essentially, you have given them an additional means to close the sale, and I 100%, oppose this bill.

Companies like XXXXXXX will stand to benefit greatly from this purposed look back, and will more than likely see their highest profits to date in making loans to veterans and their families to pay for care at facilities.

I’m quite certain that others will find ways to offer services to benefit from an additional imposed delay and hurdle to jump through.

The VA will certainly benefit by hanging onto payments that won’t be going out to the veteran or widow.

The only person who does not stand to benefit from Bill S. 3270 is the very veteran and widow for who this pension is intended.  You are not protecting the intention of this pension, and you are not addressing the scavengers who will hover like vultures when the dust settles on this.

Having been a part of this process giving over 3 months of my personal time, attending this hearing in person, and being asked to write an official Statement for the Record , I honestly thought I was being given an incredible opportunity to assist our government at work for the right reasons, and to see justice prevail.  I have walked away from this totally disillusioned.  I fail to see where any good came from all of this regardless of what type of “spin” one might put on it.

It seems to me that all the contributing issues that brought this pension to light in the first place are still on the table, and the integrity of this pension remains compromised due to the fact that those who were and are responsible for exploiting it will not be held accountable.

I find it most alarming that out of all the pensions, compensations and benefits offered through the VA, that the Aid and Attendance level of the “Improved Pension” has been hand-picked to be the only benefit to have an imposed “look back” attached to it.  The very segment of our veteran population who are in their final days, and who do not have time on the clock to wait on the VA, this is who gets to bear this burden rather than taking to task those whose unethical conduct created this mess.

It is a disgrace beyond comprehension that our men and women at any age, let alone in advanced age, should be put through these rigors due to a failing agency that is allowed to operate with no accountability, and to pay the price for the actions of “scammers” who seized an opportunity to “monetize” senior veterans and their families.

Bill S. 3270 is not the answer.  It is simply reacting to a symptom of the problems associated with an agency that is deliberately designed to fail those it is intended to serve.  It is not the solution, it is an injustice.

I did not build and maintain a #1 nationally ranked site dedicated to this pension, or become the most respected resource on the topic of Aid and Attendance by keeping my mouth shut.  I have given it my all for the past 7 years doing the job the VA didn’t, because my parents did without in their greatest hour of need, and the outcome of this investigation for me is unacceptable.

I am the proud daughter of a WWII veteran, who knows that our veterans deserve their sacrifice to be honored and especially so when they are no longer strapping young men and women defending our freedom, but rather frail and in need for a grateful nation to step up.

I respectfully submit that until Congress as a “collective” body holds the VA accountable for its failings of our veterans, that no change should be put into effect until such time that the VA is a transparent agency keeping its promise to our veterans in a timely manner rather than holding them hostage.

The days of the VA operating as a “broken” agency have got to come to an end before implementing any additional requirements that are not to the greater good of our veterans, and measures need to be put into place to ensure that  those who violate a veteran are prosecuted the fullest extent of the law.

I appreciate your time and considerations of my concerns, and would be happy to be of any assistance should you choose to investigate this matter further.

Sincerely,

Debbie Burak – Founder

VeteranAid.org

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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

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