What do I need to know about the organizations that are offering assistance with claims for pension benefits?

The U.S Senate Special Committee on Aging found that some organizations are misrepresenting themselves while helping veterans and survivors apply for Veterans Affairs (VA) pension. In a June 2012 hearing, the Committee addressed concerns that some organizations are marketing financial products and services to enable claimants whose assets exceed the VA pension program’s financial eligibility thresholds to qualify for VA pension benefits. The Committee also learned these organizations may charge substantial fees for products and services that may not always be in claimants’ best long-term interests. You can access a video of the hearing on the Committee’s website.

Government Accountability Office Report

The U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report, Veterans’ Pension Benefits: Improvements Needed to Ensure Only Qualified Veterans and Survivors Receive Benefits, GAO-12-540. GAO found that:

  • There are over 200 organizations that market financial and estate-planning services to help pension claimants with excess assets meet financial eligibility requirements for pension benefits.
  • These organizations consist primarily of financial planners and attorneys who offer products such as annuities and trusts.
  • Some products and services provided, such as annuities, may not be suitable for elderly Veterans because they may not have access to all their funds for their care within their expected lifetime without facing high withdrawal fees.
  • These products and services may result in ineligibility for Medicaid for a period of time.
  • Some organizations charged fees, ranging from a few hundred dollars for benefits counseling to $10,000 for establishment of a trust.

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1. What do I need to know about the organizations that are offering assistance with claims for pension benefits?
2. Who can help me file a claim for VA pension, including pension at the aid and attendance or housebound rates?
3. Can an accredited attorney or claims agent, who is also a financial planner, charge a fee for preparing a claim for Aid and Attendance?
4. Is it permissible to offer a guarantee that a claimant will be awarded Aid and Attendance or that the processing of a claim will be expedited?