As the Department of Veterans Affairs takes steps to being processing thousands of claims related to the passage of the PACT Act on Jan. 1, it is also warning about potential scams related to the legislation that target veterans.
During a media roundtable on Tuesday, Veterans Benefits Administration Chief Financial Officer Charles Tapp said VA is very aware of a lot of aggressive schemes and advertisements that are happening specifically around Section 804 of the PACT Act, which is related to the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, but added it is too early to determine if any reaches the level of fraud.
“We’re being flooded with commercials and emails and posts on the different media platforms,” he said. “We just want to emphasize, if you go to va.gov, there’s a site that we have explicitly dedicated to Camp Lejeune water contamination, where it walks through all the different things that are available.”
Signed into law on Aug. 10, the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act expands VA health care and benefits coverage to veterans of all eras who were exposed to toxins as a result of their military service. It also adds more than 20 cancers and other illnesses to the VA’s presumptive conditions list.
Included in the legislation is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, which allows certain individuals to sue and recover damages for harm from exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987.
“What I am here to say is that veterans have the opportunity to get the support and help they need with filing an initial claim free of charge by reaching out to VA,” he said.
Tapp, who is a Gulf War era and post 9/11 veteran, said as of Nov. 12, 145,000 veterans have filed claims related to the PACT Act.
He called filing a claim the gateway that opens the door for VA benefits and health care services. Tapp added the VBA has gone through the new law and is currently writing regulations to address it.
“The law is to tell us the what, and now the regulations allow us to do the how and we want to make sure that we’ve got the proper procedures in place to make sure that our rating specialists are moving forward smartly as they’re processing the claim so that we can do them both timely and of high quality because that’s what veterans deserve,” he said.
Tapp said VBA is also ensuring that it hires professionals that can actually process those claims, which he predicts will increase.
“The worst thing we want to do is to have this once-in-a-generation legislation come forward and become law and then not be able to process these claims timely,” he said.
To prevent vets from becoming victims of fraud, Tapp said VA is focusing on education and providing information.
“We found out that the biggest and best, most aggressive offensive measure that we can take around fraud is to make sure people are smart and can identify opportunities for fraudsters to go in and attack you with misinformation or going after your bank account or asking you to come and fill out paperwork with them or engage in other schemes to take your money when that’s not appropriate,” he said.
Tapp did not provide many details about VA’s outreach to veterans, saying he didn’t want to give away too much in terms of what it is doing.
“We don’t want to educate the bad guys on what we’re doing, but certainly we are working in the background in a very proactive manner using technology to support our efforts to keep veterans safe,” he said.
To file a claim, veterans can go online to www.va.gov to access a tool that will walk them through the process. You can also call 800-698-2411.
“For those who may want some support or assistance for someone or a body of folks who are knowledgeable in the process, we certainly recommend working with an accredited agent and those accredited agents are VSOs or other organizations that VA has recognized that have gone through certain training and have committed to holding up a certain set of standards when it comes to engaging with veterans,” he added.
Tapp urged veterans to not sign any contracts agreeing to pay a company a fee for their claim.
“Now, veterans do have a choice,” he said. “If they choose to work with an attorney or one of these companies, that is absolutely their choice. We want to emphasize again that we’re here to help and provide support free of charge.”
Vets should also be vigilant about protecting their personal accounts.
“A lot of times fraud happens when direct deposit accounts are changed,” he said. “So we want to make sure that that you keep your information with VA up to date in terms of your e-mail addresses, your phone numbers and your addresses. And also, if you receive any communications from VA, please make sure that you open it and read it.”
Reach Julia LeDoux at Julia@connectingvets.com.