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Saturday, April 20, 2024
HomeCommunityDON’T FEED THE SHARKS  

DON’T FEED THE SHARKS  

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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