Saturday, April 20, 2024


Hopefully, you have finished off the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers. In this week’s installment of “I acquired this information from someone else”, I would like to share a new topic, no leftovers, from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), National Commander Duane Sarmiento.

A Claim Shark is an individual or company that charges hefty fees to “assist” or “consult” Veterans with filing their VA benefit claims – this practice is illegal. Claim Sharks are not VA accredited, meaning they aren’t required to adhere to the well-established professional and ethical standards of VA accreditation, so their advice can often be misleading or even fraudulent. Like a “Loan Shark,” once you’re in, you can’t get out, and may be subject to new and hidden fees whenever you get a new rating, no matter who does the work.

The VFW has been a vocal opponent of predatory “Claim Sharks” – companies who charge veterans illegal fees for sub-par VA benefit claims assistance. Make no mistake, the proliferation of these illicit organizations is a threat, not only to the VFW’s cornerstone National Veterans Service (NVS) program, but an even greater threat to the VA benefits system as we know it.

Some of their predatory practices: promising or guaranteeing an increased disability rating or percentage increase; advertising expedited VA claims decisions; requesting login credentials to access a Veteran’s personal information through secure VA websites like eBenefits or VA.gov; using confusing tactics or ambiguous language to mislead claimants or coerce them into signing a contract, or telling Veterans to forego VA exams and offering health consultations within their own network of doctors.

Veterans can protect themselves by: always working with VA-accredited representatives; attending all exams ordered by VA; not signing contracts; not agreeing to fees or payments from future benefits; not agreeing to pay for medical consultations or opinions, and not providing access to Protected Health Information or Personal Identifiable Information.

Who is NOT a Claim Shark? VA-accredited veterans service organization representatives, like the VFW and your County Veterans Service Officers (CVSO); VA accredited claims agents; VA accredited attorneys; and attorneys assisting with Camp LeJeune lawsuits who do not charge excessive fees.

The Bottom line is: Predatory Claim Shark companies are engaging in illegal activities. There is no gray area here, no matter how much money they want to throw at it. Their latest collusion is a desperate attempt to avoid accountability.

Brad Anderson and Melissa Crandall are the Lake County Veterans Service Officers and can be reached at 218.834.8326 or cvso@co.lake.mn.us

Karen Christianson is the Cook County Vet­erans Service Officer and can be reached at 218.387.3639, or karen.christianson@co.cook.mn.us

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