Here’s how the VA binds offers of helping hands

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Thinking about helping a vet with a VA claim? Think again. You may be breaking the law.

A little-known fact is that according to federal law, an individual must be approved and accredited by the Veterans Administration before helping a veteran with their claim. The following is a partial quote from the law:

(b) Accreditation of Agents and Attorneys.

(1) No individual may assist claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for VA benefits as an agent or attorney unless he or she has first been accredited by VA for such purpose. — 38 U.S.C. 501(a), 5902

When I contacted the VA about this, I got a variety of responses, ranging from “that law isn’t usually enforced” to “the veteran’s claim will not be processed,” to “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Obviously, there is considerable confusion on the matter.

I applied to be certified by the VA so I could help vets — at no charge. It took almost one and a half years for the VA to process a simple four-page form. Once the form had been processed, I was approved to take a very complex 90-minute exam. I read through the various laws and policies I would be tested on (you must score 80 percent or higher on the exam), and decided I would instead risk it and clandestinely help vets without being “certified” by the VA, and challenge the law if cited.

MY OPINION: The VA doesn’t want anyone except those in the “good old boy” network to “help” veterans. Many vets are older or have service-connected disabilities that limit or preclude their ability to file their own claims effectively. By doing this, the VA severely limits the number of successful claims filed. “Thank you for your service” — now, go away and die.

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SOMETIMES THINGS GET LOST IN TRANSLATION: Recently I supplied a link to my readers so they can check to see if their number is part of a class action lawsuit settlement. All you have to do is click on the link, enter your phone number and it will immediately check the 18,000-plus numbers and tell you if you were included in the settlement. I am very sorry for the inconvenience I’ve caused many of my readers. I take full responsibility for the mistake. Now, here is the correct website address:

https://kccsecure.com/dishclassaction-Lookup/Home/PhoneForm

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ANOTHER HAPPY/SAD VA STORY: Here’s the “Good.” Last week a local group of volunteers put together an event called Stand Down. (“Stand Down,” in military parlance, refers to going to a relaxed state of readiness after being on duty and full alert.) The volunteers put this event on every year. All veterans are invited to participate.

At the event, veterans are offered assistance. There are representatives from the business community and the various social service agencies. The local Veterans Administration really steps up and offers a plethora of services to local vets on a very personal level. There is no charge to any vet for anything at Stand Down. Vets are offered haircuts, clothing, backpacks and bedding, all without charge.

Here’s the “Sad.” I heard of one specific case where a veteran had been reluctant to file a claim for medical assistance and possible disability. For years his friends and relatives urged him to at least find out what he might be eligible for. He was volunteering to help other vets at the Stand Down. His friends, also vets, were also volunteering at the event. They finally persuaded him to step into the Veterans Administration van.

It was quickly determined that he was eligible for many medical services. In addition, the VA staffers helped him apply for disability benefits, potentially paying him well over a thousand dollars per month and maybe more. Unfortunately, had he applied a decade ago, he would have probably been awarded compensation and medical services over 10 years ago. Sadly, there is no provision for payments not applied for.

LESSON: If you have family or friends who are veterans, STRONGLY urge them to go to a VA office (there’s a Kootenai County VA representative in Post Falls) and find out if they may be eligible for services. It’s important. They served our country, now let’s take care of them.

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IT’S THE COPS CALLING — NOT: Only a variation on a theme. In one case a caller identifies himself as a police officer acting on behalf of “Mark Rothman & Associates,” and demands payment on a debt, threatening that unless payment is made immediately, a bench warrant will be issued. The fake police officer instructs the victim to purchase cash cards and call back immediately to avoid arrest.

These are NOT robo calls. These scammers are smart and aggressive. If someone calls you representing themselves as a police officer, write down a name and telephone number, hang up and call the local police. The chances are VERY high, almost certain; a crook called you. It is a serious crime to impersonate a law enforcement officer. DO NOT RUN OUT AND BUY CASH CARDS! If nothing else, call me immediately at 208-699-0506 before doing anything.

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WHO IS THAT CALLING?: Here’s one of the most popular segments of my twice-weekly article, the area codes NOT to answer. (Callers keep asking for me to send them a copy.) So here it is. Cut it out and tape it by your landline:

There are certain area codes that scammers use on a regular basis. According to Inc.com, unless you know someone from the following area codes, it’s best not to answer or return calls from these area codes: 242, 441, 784, 246, 809, 829, 849, 649, 868, 268, 664, 876, 284, 721, 758, 869, 345, and 767.

Some of these area codes, when you call them back, as the robo call or the live “operator” instructs you, actually work like the old 900 numbers (in the past often used by porn lines or fake fortune tellers) and if you call from your phone you will be charged as much as $4.95 per minute or “any part thereof.” Just don’t call these area codes.

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LIMITED AVAILABILITY: During the next 10 days I will be reviewing my messages and email, but I will not be answering many calls. If you have an emergency, leave a message and say that you NEED me to call back. I will.

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REMEMBER BILL BROOKS: “He’s On Your Side”

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I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at 208-699-0506, or email me at: BillBrooksAdvocate@gmail.com (#GoGetEmBillBrooks) You can follow me at www.billbrooksconsumer advocate.com. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the Broker and Owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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