OAKLAND – Joining a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general, California Attorney General Rob Bonta today sent a letter to Congress expressing his support for bipartisan federal legislation that aims to protect veterans from financial exploitation. H.R. 1139 and S. 740 — together referred to as the Governing Unaccredited Representatives Defrauding (GUARD) VA Benefits Act — would reinstate criminal penalties for unaccredited claims representatives who charge unauthorized fees for purporting to assist veterans with filing a claim for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation benefits. Unaccredited claims representatives are known as “claim sharks,” because their fees can be exorbitant for subpar or worthless services. California veterans can receive free, high-quality assistance from their county veteran service office or from another VA-accredited representative.
“Claim sharks like to make bold claims to veterans, promising quick response times and guaranteed results for disability compensation benefits. Time and again, that’s proven to be a bald-faced lie,” said Attorney General Bonta. “In reality, claim sharks frequently line their own pockets with no regard for anyone but themselves. Veterans put their lives on the line to protect us. Now, Congress must protect our heroes and their hard-earned benefits by passing the GUARD Act as soon as possible.”
In recent years, there has been a proliferation of unaccredited claims representatives preying on veterans. While federal laws prohibit individuals without accreditation from the VA's Office of General Counsel from assisting a veteran in preparing, presenting, or prosecuting claims for VA disability compensation benefits, criminal penalties for such violations were removed in 2006, leaving the VA virtually powerless to hold claims sharks accountable. Unaccredited claims representatives often “charge five times the amount of the veteran’s retroactive compensation, potentially costing him or her thousands of dollars.”
In their letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, the attorneys general underscore that, with the passage of the PACT Act last year, there soon will likely be an exponential increase in predation against veterans. The PACT Act significantly expands VA benefits for veterans who were exposed to dangerous toxins in service. While there is no deadline to apply for expanded benefits under the PACT Act, eligible veterans are encouraged to apply, or to notify the VA of their intent to file a benefits claim, by today to preserve their ability to receive 12 months of retroactive benefits.
The GUARD Act has received widespread support from veterans organizations, including Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), The American Legion, National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates (NOVA), Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), and Wounded Warrior Project (WWP).
In sending today’s letter, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and American Samoa and the District of Columbia.
A copy of the letter can be found here.