Beware the VA Pension Poachers

By Chris Johnson

Scammers are creative. They come up will all sorts of ways to separate people from their money, especially seniors.

One of the more nefarious scams we’ve encountered lately involves VA pension poaching. These pension poaching organizations reach out to veterans that they think might be eligible for VA pension and aid and attendance benefits.

Their pitch sounds good on the surface. For a fee, the scammers say, they will take care of the application for VA benefits and provide the care the veteran needs. They make it sound like a convenient one-stop shop.

Except it isn’t.

There’s a built-in conflict of interest, but the average veteran doesn’t realize this. The organization that helps the veteran apply for VA benefits should never be the organization that provides the care.

How does this scam play out?

First, pension poacher organizations charge exorbitant rates for the care. Because the veteran or surviving spouse is paying more than they should for the care, he or she doesn’t often get the amount of care needed. The veteran ends up getting shortchanged while the caregiving entity profits.

Second, pension poachers use scare tactics to keep people from extricating themselves from these arrangements. The problem starts when the family of the veteran or surviving spouse figures out there’s a problem. Maybe they’ve been caregiving for a while and maybe they talk to their friends and realize they're paying more for care than other people they know. When the family figures out what’s going on, their logical next move is to call the company and ask them to stop.

This is where things really get ugly.  The pension poacher will say, "Well, we can stop giving care but we're going to notify the VA that you're not paying caregivers anymore and that your pension should be stopped immediately. That might put you in an overpayment situation, and you might have to repay the VA. Who knows whether you will be eligible be in the future."

They scare the veteran into continuing with the company. It’s a one-two combination punch that can intimidate anyone who doesn’t realize what’s happening.

I’ve had personal experience helping to extricate clients from these pension poaching arrangements. One family came to me for help planning for their elderly veteran’s care. As we were going through their documents, I saw that they already had VA benefits. When I asked about those benefits, the family admitted that they had misgivings. This family wanted to move their elderly veteran to facility care instead of using in-home caregivers, but they had encountered some resistance from the organization that had helped them qualify for VA benefits and was now providing home care services. The organization had said that the VA benefits would be turned off if they moved their loved one into a facility.

I knew right away that I was dealing with a VA pension poacher. I called them and informed them that we were going to notify the VA that the family had terminated their services and their representation.

The person I spoke with then attempted to intimidate me, not realizing that he was speaking with an attorney. “Well, we have to tell them as well,” the person said with a slightly threatening tone.

"I would be very happy if you would do that because we are going to turn on the care services at the assisted living facility and cut you out,” I said.

If the family hadn’t been working with Takacs McGinnis, they wouldn't have fully understood what was happening. It’s confirmation that there are lots of bad actors out there. VA benefits are means-tested benefits. The people who access these benefits really need them. When a VA pension poacher says, "If you fire us as your caregiver, we will make sure your VA benefits are turned off," it is beyond inappropriate.

Chris Johnson is a VA Accredited Attorney, Marine Corps veteran, and partner at Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Hendersonville, Tennessee.