After serving in the US Navy for over 20 years, I retired in 2000. Like many veterans, I had numerous issues to deal with — relocation of my family, career transition from military to civilian sector, and working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to claim disability benefits.
Veterans should be able to access earned benefits without getting tangled up in complex paperwork and bureaucracy. Yet since 2019, there have been concerted efforts in Washington to make the VA claims process even more difficult by enacting new restrictions on who can help veterans receive the benefits they have earned and deserve.
Both the administration and Congress have spent years solely focused on trying to prevent scammers from enriching themselves at our expense, yet most of the proposed cures would be worse than the disease.
Filing a Claim
From my experience, filing a claim for VA benefits was not easy. I used a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) to help file my claim and follow-ups in conjunction. The VSO performed this service for free, and a decision was reached in seven months — a success story.
While my experience was positive, this is not always the case. VSOs are often understaffed and cannot address the current level of need. I know fellow former service members who have turned to private companies — typically small businesses run by service-disabled veterans — and have been successful.
While a veteran can file their claim on their own, it is far easier and quicker to have a professional file for them so they may address other issues associated with the transition to civilian life. In cases of severe physical or mental impairment, the veteran’s disability prevents them from filing without help.
PLUS for Veterans and GUARD VA Benefits Acts
Both are designed to help our veterans navigate the VA system without being exploited by limiting fees that can be charged and imposing criminal penalties or fines on those who violate the respective bills. However, the two competing pieces of legislation have a distinct difference.
The PLUS for Veterans Act 2023 will incorporate a strict accreditation process to ensure private consultant businesses and VSOs are part of the VA-approved system.
This will allow veterans to maintain a wide variety of options to choose who they feel can best represent them while raising the bar of protection against scammers.
The GUARD VA Benefits Act introduced last year restricts who can file a claim, limiting it to VA accredited attorneys or the veterans themselves.
This bill would functionally eliminate the ability of smaller and mid-size VSOs to continue assisting with claims if they don’t have the money to hire claims attorneys already accredited by the VA like the big national VSOs do.
The bill would also criminalize private, small businesses if they continue to help with claims. This will sharply reduce the availability of experienced, qualified people who can help veterans with disability claims.
Our veterans should be able to access their VA benefits without being charged unauthorized and unnecessary fees. That’s why I co-sponsored the GUARD VA Benefits Act, which will penalize predatory entities who prey on our veterans in need.
— Senator Mark Kelly (@SenMarkKelly) November 22, 2022
Protecting veterans from dishonest people is important. Yet doing so should not punish millions of former service members by limiting their options because of a handful of scammers in past years.
The Guard VA Benefits Act goes too far in restricting who can help veterans. The PLUS for Veterans Act offers a better solution to increase protection while empowering them with more options.
Benefits owed should be provided quickly to obtain needed medical care and access to financial support. Anything less is a failure to keep our promises to those who served the nation proudly.
Donald Logar is a graduate of the US Naval Academy.
As a Designated Naval Aviator he served over 20 years of active service, with multiple overseas deployments and staff assignments at the Pentagon. After his retirement he worked for over two decades supporting the defense industry as both a contractor and executive.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.
The Defense Post aims to publish a wide range of high-quality opinion and analysis from a diverse array of people – do you want to send us yours? Click here to submit an op-ed.