Bill to protect veterans unanimously clears key legislative committee

Veterans in Maine may soon have more financial security after a bill providing protection from fraudulent and predatory claims practices cleared a key legislative committee last week. The bill, LD 2259, was sponsored by Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Somerset, and provides increased protection for veterans who are applying for U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) benefits.

The predatory practices, which according to the VA are conducted by people or organizations whom they call “Claim Sharks,” include aggressive and misleading tactics aimed at veterans, their families, survivors and caregivers. These practices often result in hefty fees to “assist” or “consult” veterans and survivors with the filing of their VA benefits claims.

During an awareness campaign launched last year, the VA said unaccredited claim sharks have no formal training in the VA system and operate outside the law. The Federal Trade Commission estimated that such scammers cost veterans and their families about $292 million in losses in 2022.

Since the passage of the PACT Act in 2022, which was the largest benefit and health care expansion in the VA’s history and now covers veterans who were exposed to burn pits and toxic substances, activity by claim sharks and other scammers has only risen. The sudden spike led to the introduction of competing U.S. House and Senate bills that will reinstate fines and jail time, which were suspended during the pandemic to aid the VA to catch up on benefits claims. Both bills have very strong support.

Typical tactics used by such predators often include offering a consultation from their own network of doctors while promising an expedited examination and guaranteeing an increased disability rating or percentage increase to their benefits. Claim sharks then apply hefty fees for their assistance or demand a high percentage of the veteran’s earned benefits.

The VA says veterans are never required to pay for benefits they earned. They launched a website to help veterans prevent fraud and how to report it and seek help if it occurs. They also have an online tool to aid veterans who are searching for accredited Veterans Services Organizations (VSOs) to help with various services.

“My bill will provide an extra wall of security for our veterans, further protecting them from predatory and deceptive practices that target their hard-earned monetary benefits. Veterans should never have to use their benefits to pay for these predatory practices; and I thank the Veterans of Foreign Wars for bringing this to my attention,” said Farrin. “Veterans did their duty for our country and deserve the greatest protections possible. It is our duty as a country and as a state to provide them with that security and provide as much information about VSOs as possible.”

The bill now moves to the Senate and House chambers for final passage.


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