Have you heard of “Pension Poaching”? I have gotten several calls and emails lately from Texas Veterans that are receiving solicitations from organizations that I believe are engaging in this activity….so I”m going to tell you about it here.
Forewarned is forearmed.
Here’s How the “Pension Poacher’s” Pitch “works”:
So here’s how it works. You are a Veteran that served during a wartime period.
You get a call, email, or letter – usually one that you never asked to get – from a company saying that they will help you get “Aid & Attendance” from the VA. They’ll tell you how the qualifications are really easy – 90 days of wartime service – and they’ll usually tell you some story of a Veteran whose “benefits” were delayed by the VA and nobody would listen (except, of course, them).
All you have to do is pay a fee ranging from $1,500 to $10,000 or more, and they’ll take care of the rest. The “rest” includes things like: filing your VA pension application, explain and guide you through any necessary adjustments in your income and assets in order to qualify, selling your annuities, whole/variable life insurance, and other financial products.
How do they Approach Veterans?
Some of them have reputable-seeming websites.
Like American Veterans Aid (this is a link to a page of complaints about this company…I’m not sharing the Search Engine Power of the Veterans Law Blog by linking to a company that doesn’t pass the “smell test”.
They look legitimate, until you start getting their emails, and phone-calls, and demands for credit card payments that are, in the words of one person that contacted me about this company “high pressure” sales tactics. (I have asked American Veterans Aid to provide me information about their services. I was told that “corporate” would respond – needless to say, “corporate” hasn’t responded.
Some will hand out flyers at VA Medical Centers or VA Regional Offices. Like this flyer that a Veteran up North sent to me last week (this ass-clown doesn’t appear to have even wasted time getting accredited – a requirement if you are going to represent Veterans in VA claims):
And some will show up on Facebook hawking their wares.
By the way – hang out in the Facebook Group “VAisLying.com” and you will be in touch with 8,000+ hyper-intelligent and vocal Veterans that know their way around the VA, and have seen just about every Veterans scam known to man.
Why is this a Bad Thing?
Several reasons. Here are a few:
1) Never – EVER – pay anyone a dime to file a claim for you with the VA.
Nobody should ever – EVER – charge you a fee to file a claim for any kind of VA benefits. Accredited attorneys and agents can only charge a fee to help a Veteran with their appeal AFTER the Veteran gets a Ratings Decision from the VA – never before.
Now, these folks – often very polished insurance salesmen – will try to tell you that the fee is not for filing the VA application, but for their “consultation” to determine eligibility, or for their “review of your estate and health needs”.
Hold your breath – someone is shoveling cow manure into your lap.
2) There is no such thing as “Aid and Attendance” Pensions.
The so-called “Aid and Attendance” – what is actually properly called a Non-Service Connected Pension or Survivor’s Pension is meant for indigent Veterans that served at least 90 days during a particular wartime period, and who do not have the income to support their daily living and medical needs.
It was not meant for wealthy Veterans to use as an estate planning tool.
This part, however, is on Congress: They could easily require a look-back period for Non-Service Connected Pension eligibility (5 years would be reasonable) – that’s how Social Security keeps wealthy folks from hiding assets to qualify for benefits. Congress, however, will only be working 26 days each year, so their plate is full with things like “Get more money from Monsanto for campaigns” or “Establish an Annual Isn’t-Congress-Great Day”. Veterans are a pretty low priority for Congress right now – despite all the speeches to the contrary.
So if there is no such thing – really – as the “Aid and Attendance” benefit, what is there?
Words mean things – let’s call it what it is: an increase to a non-service connected pension for Veterans that are housebound or require aid and attendance in their daily living activities.
This is different from what most non-poaching attorneys are talking about when it comes to Aid and Attendance – a benefit available to some service-connected Veterans who are housebound, or need assistance with the daily living activities: under certain situations, these Veterans might get an additional “Special Monthly Compensation” payment for “aid and attendance” and housebound status.
Companies that try to tell you that you are eligible for an “Aid and Attendance Pension” are, pure and simple, engaging in a deceptive business practice.
They are not to be trusted, in my personal opinion.
4) They are going to want you to move all your assets into some sort of Irrevocable Trust or Insurance vehicle to hide your money from Uncle Sam.
Pension Poachers typically try to convince you to move all of your assets into an irrevocable trust to “qualify” you for the non-service connected pension.
Irrevocable trusts are a dangerous thing – they should be put in place only after you consult with an attorney that is licensed in your state, and has advised you of all the pros and cons of this sort of estate planning tool.
Having an irrevocable trust means that you lose all control over your assets – and you can’t get it back.
Many times, these folks aren’t attorneys, and the ones that are probably are not licensed to practice law in your state.
Want to sell your house and move to a smaller place in your elderly years?
After you’ve created an irrevocable trust, you can’t…not without the trustees permission.
Want to get more money for medical expenses, or a gift for a grandchild? You don’t have the right – only the trustee can do that.
There is a time and a place to put funds into an Irrevocable Trust as part of an overall estate plan.
But, for god’s sake, don’t set up an Irrevocable Trust after talking to some clown in a cardigan who has no license to practice law, and whose primary interest is the commission check he – or she – will get from selling you an annuity that’s worth less than the banana peel you are about to step on when you take a call from a pension poacher.
5) Pension Poachers are typically not licensed or qualified to give you Legal Advice.
Pension Poachers are typically not lawyers – and even the ones that are typically aren’t licensed in your state.
A California lawyer that advises Texas residents on legal matters related to estate planning or trusts – without a license to practice law in Texas – is violating the law and breaching some significant ethical duties as a lawyer.
The forms they use are usually standard documents that don’t consider state trust law.
They may tell you an attorney has “vetted” their trust documents, but most of the time that attorney is some quasi-attorney/paralegal that drafted a boilerplate trust for them to use.
Check out the attorney if they say they are accredited.
See if they are a member of NOVA – the Gold Standard for training Veterans advocates.
Download my FREE eBook “8 Things Veterans Should Know before Hiring an Attorney” – learn to spot the “real deal” when it comes to attorneys that represent Veterans.
5) The Financial Products they sell are usually “bottom of the barrel” stuff.
Once they move all your assets into a trust, or some other vehicle, the Pension Poacher is going to try to talk you into buying an annuity, or a whole/variable life insurance contract as an investment tool.
Listen, I sold insurance when I first came out of the Army. Though I’m no longer licensed to sell the products – happily – I’m not qualified to advise you on what financial products are right for you.
Find a Certified Financial Planner for that.
My personal opinion – and that’s all it is – is that there is a time and place when an annuity is the right financial instrument to purchase.
Spending down an estate to qualify for a Non-Service Connected Pension from the VA is – in my personal opinion – NOT the right time to purchase an annuity, folks.
Or if it is, you should probably have a Certified Financial Planner advise you and help you find the best annuity to purchase.
How about Whole and Variable life insurance products?
There are people out there that believe in them, and I’m not going to argue with those folks. But I gotta tell you…I wouldn’t purchase a whole or variable life insurance product with my worst enemy’s money.
They yield PHENOMENAL commissions to the insurance salesman – and their value usually ends there.
The rates of return on insurance products are typically much lower than other types of proper investments, and they are far too risky for anyone who is of an age to do estate planning.
6) They won’t help you with any other benefits.
They won’t talk to you about service-connected disability compensation.
They won’t help you with your claim for increased rating for a worsening medical condition. They won’t help you service-connect your PTSD, TBI, sleep apnea, and they won’t have a clue about Agent Orange exposure for Thailand or Korean DMZ Veterans during the Vietnam war.
They want one thing – and one thing only: the commissions they will get for selling you an annuity, or a whole/variable life insurance product.
There’s an old Italian lady that lives next to my aunt, who has a saying that paints the picture of the value of these companies in your Veterans Benefits claims and appeals:
When it comes to helping you with ALL of your Veterans Benefits claims and appeals, Pension Poachers are “…as helpful as a crocheted handle on a shit bucket.”
7) The VA is cracking down on Pension Poachers.
Not fast enough, if you ask me.
Hopefully, the new VA General Counsel Tammy Kennedy will make the eradication of Pension Poachers a priority in her term.
But if the VA finds out that the clown that set up your “Aid and Attendance Pension” engaged in fraud to deceive the government into paying you a pension you might not have been entitled to, who do you think is going to pay them back?
Not the poacher.
They are always “broke” when they get caught.
And if they aren’t broke, the VA moves so slow that a dozen state and federal agencies – like State Bars, State Attorney Generals, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a host of other more proactive government agencies – will have already picked all the “good meat” off the carcass.
You – the Veteran – will get stuck paying the VA back.
Or worse, your survivors.
You may be able to appeal this decision, and you might win, but it may also take 12 years of fighting the VA.
What do you if you are contacted by a Pension Poacher?
Break contact immediately.
Or, as one of my fellow platoon leaders once yelled out when we were ambushed during a training exercise setting up ambushes: “Run away, Run away!”
First of all, if you are a Texas Veteran, and have been contacted by an organization known as “American Veterans Aid” – I want to talk to you.
I have seen the tactics of this organization in Texas, and I’m very concerned about what they are doing to Texas Veterans.
1) Report them to the VA Office of Inspector General and the VA Office of General Counsel
2) If you feel you are the Victim of fraud at the hands of a Pension Poacher, contact your State’s Attorney General and ask for help.
3) If the Pension Poacher claims to be a lawyer, or offers you legal advice, or tells you that you don’t need a lawyer – but isn’t licensed to practice law in your state – contact your State’s Bar association and ask them to investigate the company/lawyer for the Unauthorized – or unlicensed – Practice of Law.
4) If they claim to be a lawyer, regardless where they are licensed, and they contacted you without you asking them to, this is an ethical violation in most states. Call the State Bar and ask them to investigate the company.
5) If you are bored, and have some time, here are a few ways to test them, or get rid of them.
a)Ask them to explain the difference between Aid & Attendance as part of an Non-Service Connected Pension, and Aid &Attendance as a form of service-connected Special Monthly Compensation
b) Ask them to explain what they think of the fact that the FTC, and VA Office of Inspector General are currently investigating companies that engage in the same or similar business practices around the US? Write down what they say, and send it off to the FTC and VA OIG.
Remember – if someone tries to get you to pay them money to qualify for an “Aid and Attendance Pension”, there is a good chance that you are being sold some snake-oil.
Don’t take the bait.
If you want to find a LEGITIMATE attorney for your VA Benefits Claims and Appeals, check out my FREE eBook: “8 Things Every Veteran Should Know Before Hiring an Attorney”. In addition to showing you what to look for and what to watch out for when it comes to Veterans Benefits attorneys, I give you a checklist of 25+ questions to ask EVERY attorney that you are asking to consider representing you.
Pension Poachers – Do You Feel that this Article has been Unfair?
Poachers – or business selling “Aid & Attendance Pensions” – do you feel that this article has been unfair?
Would you like to offer your side of the story?
I’d love to hear it, and I’d love to share it.
If your business would like to respond to my allegations, please, contact me and we can discuss your posting of a point-by-point retort of my allegations and criticisms of my philosophy on Pension Poaching here on the Veterans Law Blog.
N.B. This post was published in July 2014. It is now October 2015 and not a SINGLE “elder benefits advisor” or “VA pension consultant” has ever taken issue with the words I’ve written here. Kinda makes you wonder if they know I am telling the truth about their fraudulent business model, and don’t want anyone to know how they “make the sausage”.