Have you heard of VA pension poaching? Pension poachers are organizations that help veterans apply for VA pension aid and attendance benefits and then require the veteran to purchase home care services from their organization at inflated prices and with excessive fees. How can you determine whether you’re working with a VA pension poacher? In this article, which ran in April 2022, we talked about the five warning signs, which include:
1. They promise to submit your VA application and provide caregivers.
2. They threaten to turn off your VA benefits.
3. The care seems overpriced.
4. They promise one thing but deliver another.
5. They resist putting things in writing.
If the organization you are working with exhibits one or more of these telltale signs, what should you do? We posed this question to Chris Johnson, a VA Accredited attorney and partner at Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Chris has encountered many pension poachers during his years as an elder law attorney.
The moment family caregivers realize that they may be working with a VA pension poacher is pivotal, but what happens next is even more important. “When you confront a suspected pension poacher, you will often be met with threats,” Chris explained. “The pension poacher might say that if you stop their services, they will notify the VA that your pension should be stopped immediately. They might say there will be a debt that you’ll have to pay back. They may also say that they can’t guarantee that the veteran or surviving spouse will be eligible for VA benefits in the future. The pension poachers scare families into not leaving them. It’s a one-two combination punch that is very frightening.”
How do you end the relationship with a VA pension poacher? Chris admits that the process can be intimidating. “Their scare tactics are convincing, so your best bet is to get help from a professional advocate such as a VA accredited attorney, a VA accredited agent, or a Veteran Services Officer (VSO).”
Chris is receiving more and more calls from clients affected by VA pension poaching. “One family I was working with had concerns about caregivers,” he explained. “They wanted to move to a facility care instead of in-home caregivers, and they didn't think they could because this organization had scared them into believing that the VA benefits would be turned off.”
What Chris did next demonstrates the power of working with a VA Accredited Attorney in a Life Care Planning Law Firm. “I contacted the provider and told them, ‘We're taking over. We're cutting you out. We're going to notify the VA that we have terminated your services and your representation.’”
The pension poacher then tried the same intimidation tactics on Chris, threatening to notify the VA that services had been terminated, and that VA benefits might be discontinued.
Chris didn’t back down. "You can write them 100 letters that say we fired you,” he told the pension poacher. “In fact, I would be happy if you would do that because we are going to turn on the care services at the assisted living facility."
If the family hadn’t worked with Chris, they wouldn't have fully understood what was going on, and they would have continued working with a pension poacher that was lining its own pockets at the family’s expense.
Chris says that veterans and surviving spouses can be extricated from these arrangements, even when pension poachers claim to have a contract. “Those so-called contracts never stand,” he added. “The VA pension poachers know this, but they also know that scare tactics will intimidate family caregivers into staying. When professional advocates stand up to VA pension poachers, they back down because they know they're in the wrong.”
Chris has this advice to family caregivers: “If you suspect you’re working with a pension poacher, don’t try to go it alone. Get help from a VA accredited attorney or other professional advocate. The veteran, the veteran's surviving spouse, and the family should be in charge of care-related decisions, not some VA pension poachers who is holding their VA benefits hostage if they don't do what the organization wants.”