U.S. REP. RON BARBER INTRODUCES BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO PREVENT ‘POACHING’ OF VETERANS’ PENSIONS
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ron Barber today sponsored bipartisan legislation that will target financial companies that take advantage of veterans by selling them estate planning services and other financial products that prevent veterans from accessing their assets.
Barber is a prime sponsor of the Protecting Veterans’ Pensions Act, the first bill that he has sponsored since taking office last month. The bill also is sponsored by Reps. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.; Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.; and Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla.
“It is an honor for me to represent a district that 100,000 veterans call home,” Barber said today. “But with that honor comes the responsibility to ensure that these veterans, who stepped forward to serve our nation, are not now defrauded. We must stop ‘pension poachers’ from taking advantage of our veterans.”
Several hundred financial service organizations around the country are targeting our veterans with financial products and services to help them qualify for additional VA benefits. This legislation would prevent those organizations from taking advantage of our nation’s veterans.
Veterans are paid benefits based on age, income and net worth limitations and whether they have a service-connected disability. Enhanced pension benefits are available to veterans who require the aid of others because of their disability or if they are homebound.
When a veteran applies for pension benefits, the VA checks to see if the veteran’s net worth falls below limitations. But these “pension poachers” “reposition” a veteran’s assets, for example through a trust or annuity, to make them appear eligible.
This results in serious financial problems for veterans with these firms often charging veterans exorbitant fees. And because of the way the assets are restructured, it may become impossible for veterans or their families to access their money when they need it most.
The legislation would create a three-year “look back” period for need-based pension benefits to determine if one of those financial institutions had fraudulently disposed of a veteran’s assets to profit at their expense.
Under current law, the practice of pension poaching is not technically illegal. But it led to a year-long investigation by the Government Accountability Office after complaints by veterans and their families.
As a result of that investigation, the GAO identified a number of issues of concern to veterans, including the complexity of the application process, a lack of clear guidance for determining eligibility and an inability by the VA to look at financial histories. Barber’s legislation follows the recommendation of the GAO report and has been called for by national veterans groups.
“As a veteran myself, I am outraged by the actions of those who would prey on America’s elderly and disabled veterans,” Rooney said. “These financial predators are scamming their victims out of the resources they need, while undermining the VA pension program for the veterans who rely on it. By creating a three-year look-back period, we can strengthen the pension program and put an end to this fraud against our nation’s heroes.”
“It is the aim of this bipartisan legislation to protect veterans, their families and taxpayers from predatory financial advisors, who are abusing taxpayer money by selling veterans unnecessary financial products,” Schrader said. “By instituting a three-year look back, we can help prevent these financial planners from hiding assets and enriching themselves by artificially qualifying veterans for benefits intended for the poorest and most vulnerable veterans and their families.”
“As vice chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, I strive to be an advocate for veterans and their families in Tampa Bay and throughout the country,” Bilirakis said. “I have made it a priority to ensure that veterans receive the benefits they have earned through their service to our nation, and that includes protection against scams and people trying to take advantage of our nation’s heroes.”
Similar bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate last month by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, Richard Burr, R-N.C. and others.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
U.S. Rep. Ron Barber
Arizona’s 8th Congressional District
(520) 881-3588 or (520) 904-5876