I posted recently about the colossal failure that is the VA’s Fiduciary Program.
It’s time to start clamoring for change about this process, and two Veterans’ advocates have taken a tremendous step in that direction. It is because of their efforts over the last couple of years that this issue has stayed in the public eye (once they tell me its okay to mention their names, I will post them here). Take for example the case of Houston attorney Joe Phillips and his wife.
This “fiduciary” is currently pending a federal criminal trial in Houston for allegedly scheming (with his wife) to steal over $2 million from the bank accounts of the Veterans whose finances they were to manage. This scheme is alleged to have started in 2003 – meaning it took the VA and the Dept. of Justice over 8 years to audit the fiduciary, identify the alleged fraud, and charge these individuals for their alleged malfeasance. Read the story here on the Department of Justice website.
On February 9, 2012, the U.S. House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (O&I) held an oversight hearing entitled, “Reforming VA’s Flawed Fiduciary System.” The VA’s approximately 95,000 appointed fiduciaries manage over $3 billion in payments made to more than 100,000 of our nation’s veterans and their dependents. Read the transcripts of the hearing testimony by clicking this link.
But, a little disheartening is that most of the same themes from 2012 were put before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee in 2010: read that testimony by clicking this link.
What is the VA’s Fiduciary Program all about? Read this post to hear, very generally, what’s going on.
Here are some links to stories of problems in the VA Fiduciary Program:
1) Joe Phillips, a Houston attorney, and his wife. This “fiduciary” is currently pending a federal criminal trial in Houston for allegedly scheming (with his wife) to steal over $2 million from the bank accounts of the Veterans whose finances they were to manage. This scheme is alleged to have started in 2003 – meaning it took the VA and the Dept. of Justice over 8 years to audit the fiduciary, identify the alleged fraud, and charge these individuals for their alleged malfeasance. Read the story here on the Department of Justice website.
2) Read about this Central Texas Veteran whose family had to pawn their possessions because the VA’s appointed “fiduciary” appears to refuse to communicate with the Veteran and refuses to provide the money the Veteran needs to take care of himself: Veteran’s Family Asking About Their Money.
3) Read about this Florida Veteran whose fiduciaries are taking a percentage of all of his money – not just his VA benefits. Vets lose benefits as VA covers up mistake.
4) Read about this Tennessee Veteran whose fiduciary allegedly embezzled over $100,000 in money from the Veteran and the Veteran’s estate: Surviving Family members fight for Memphis Veteran’s Benefits.
5) Read about how the VA appointed a convicted felon (!) to manage this Veteran’s money. VA Hires Convicted Felon to Manage this Veteran’s Money.
It is my opinion that the VA Fiduciary Program needs to be gutted completely. Why? There is a process under every state’s guardianship law for every Veteran. This process involves the Veterans’ family, is managed and audited by the state court, and ensures that the Veteran’s physical, medical and other needs are being met (something that the VA’s Fidiciary program falls woefully short on).
Here is what should happen to effectuate change in the VA:
1) States should pass laws regulating the conduct of individuals who serve as fiduciaries of that state’s veterans. These laws should include the appointment of special prosecutors at the state and county level to investigate and prosecute fraud, embezzlement, theft, etc., of Veteran’s money and property. The Attig Law Firm is in the process of drafting Model Legislation for States to use. Please contact Attorney Chris Attig if you would like to join this effort or receive updates on this effort.
2) Veterans should challenge the VA’s appointment of any fiduciary that they do not know – immediately! In a 2011 Decision issued by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Freeman v. Shinseki), the court found that Veterans should have an opportunity to file an appeal of the VA’s appointment of a fiduciary. (This is going to be hard because in many cases the VA doesn’t tell the Veteran that they appointed a fiduciary and emptied the bank accounts of the Veteran until months later). How does the Veteran challenge the decision? File a Notice of Disagreement with the VA Regional Office just as you would for your disability compensation appeals.
3) Veterans should contact attorneys in their geographical area to ask for help ensuring that the Fiduciary has complied with their own State laws involving the VA Fiduciary’s Duties to the Veteran. In many cases, state law provides avenues to take the Fiduciary to State Court and sue in civil court for damages if the VA Fiduciary is mismanaging a Veteran’s money or has breached a VA fiduciary duty to the Veteran. (If you are in the DFW area, contact the Attig Law Firm and we will discuss with you whether or not we will be able to assist you in investigating your VA Appointed Fiduciary – unfortunately, we are not able to assist Veterans with Fiduciary issues outside the DFW Metroplex at this time.
4) If you feel that your fiduciary is stealing money from a Veteran – contact your City and County District Attorney’s Office. If that doesn’t work, contact your States’ Attorney General’s Office. If that doesn’t work, contact your State legislators. If that doesn’t work, contact your Federal legislators. Keep reaching out to these folks until someone answers and helps investigates whether your VA Fiduciary has committed a criminal act or act(s).
5) Everyone should contact their Federal legislators and ask them to hold hearings into the abuses visited on Veterans by these “fiduciaries”. Only through these hearings will the legislative needs of our Veterans become clear.
It is very important that we note that each and every Veteran’s claim is different. Just because we were able to secure substantial past-due benefits for one Veteran does not mean or imply that we will be able to do so for you. In some cases, we may not be able to secure you any financial compensation due to the facts of your particular case.