Thursday, June 7, 2012

McCaskill Targets Financial Firms Abusing Veterans’ Benefits

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is targeting big financial firms that are abusing military veterans’ benefits through a practice coined “pension-poaching.”

McCaskill told a Senate panel yesterday that legislation is required to address the practice, in which financial institutions use loopholes to abuse programs that provide benefits to veterans.  More than 200 financial service organizations across the country have begun marketing estate planning services to veterans in order to help them qualify for additional benefits—services which often involve the “restructuring” of the veteran’s asssets in order for them to appear indigent. These firms then charge veterans exorbitant fees or permanently prevent them from accessing their assets.

“These companies have figured out that they can make money off of this sleazy practice, and they’re compromising the integrity of these proud men and women,” said McCaskill, the daughter of a World War II veteran. “This is a kissing-cousin of criminal fraud if it isn’t out-and-out fraud.”

Such practices, while not technically illegal, sparked a year-long investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) after repeated complaints by veterans and their families. The report identified a number of issues, including the complexity of  application processes, a lack of clear guidance for determining eligibility, and an inability by administrators to look at financial histories.

“This is a generation that I’m very familiar with—my dad served and he didn’t feel like what he did was special,” McCaskill said. “I hurt for the men and women here because the last thing in the world they want in their life is being accused of taking something they don’t deserve.”

McCaskill is supporting legislation along with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) in order to prevent these practices.

“Pension poachers better look out, because Senator McCaskill is going to be coming after ‘em,” Wyden said at yesterday’s hearing. “If anybody can figure out how to make sure that we take the toughest, most aggressive approach to these pensions-poachers, it’s the Senator from Missouri.”

Yesterday’s hearing included veterans advocacy groups, family members of veterans that had been victims of financial firms, and Emily Schwarz, President of Veterans Financial—a firm created specifically to engage in these practices—who only appeared before the Committee after she was threatened with a subpoena.   

On Tuesday, McCaskill chaired a subcommittee hearing on veteran employment, and yesterday she welcomed the last-ever Honor Flight carrying veterans from the Ozarks to the World War II Memorial. McCaskill has championed veterans causes since coming to the Senate in 2006 and was a founding member of The Veterans Jobs Caucus. McCaskill was a leading advocate for the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, and has repeatedly rallied support for additional care for veterans returning from combat duty.

Video of yesterday’s hearing is available HERE.

No comments: