The York County Department of Veterans Affairs is warning veterans and their families to call the county office when applying for benefits, saying "unscrupulous" financial advisers and attorneys have been charging them for services that should be free and could result in costly repayment of benefits.
Financial advisers and attorneys have been speaking in area nursing homes and assisted living facilities, pitching unnecessary services to residents, said Phil Palandro, director of Veterans Affairs.
They offer to help with the application to apply for U.S. veteran benefits, then encourage the vets to juggle their money around if they have too much to qualify, he said.
This process often involves buying an annuity or other financial asset for a fee, Palandro said.
The issues: York veterans should take issue with this practice for two reasons, Palandro said.
First, federal officials review financial records for a few years before the application and the applicant can lose benefits and be told to repay the government if they had money and hid it, he said.
"They'll say, 'Hey, we'll garnish your Social Security at 15 percent at a clip until you pay our money back,'" Palandro said.
Second, the financial adviser or attorney will charge a fee for the actions taken to improve the applicant's chances of getting the benefits, such as putting money into an annuity, he said.
Longstanding problem: Palandro said the practice has been happening in York for a couple of years, and he has been arguing with assisted living facilities and financial advisors to stop it.
"It's not illegal, but it sure as heck sounds unethical," he said. "They take these people who ... are wartime veterans ... and they turn around and jack them out of money."
He cited the example of a Red Lion woman who applied for assisted living benefits for her sister and was charged a $700 penalty for trying to get her money out of an annuity when the sister died.
Veterans shouldn't pay anything to apply for or related to applying for benefits, and they shouldn't be swayed into hiding money to increase their chances of eligibility, he said.
"If they aren't eligible, then they're not eligible," Palandro said.
Should contact department: The county's veterans department advocates on behalf of veterans to determine eligibility for numerous veterans benefits, assisting with the application process for free.
Palandro said veterans and their families should always contact the York County Department of Veterans Affairs before applying for veterans' benefits, so they can get free help and counseling with the process.
He said residents shouldn't assume that nursing homes, community centers and assisted-living centers will shield them from "unscrupulous" advisors, because they might not realize they're being dishonest.
And though the people giving presentations at the facilities might sound like they come from a nonprofit group or veterans-affiliated agency, they might not, he said.
Palandro said the "bogus" applications also contribute to the considerable backlog of applications in Veterans Affairs, delaying benefits to people who need them.
York County Department of Veterans Affairs can be reached at 771-9218.
- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.