WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 – Leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Special Committee on Aging said today that they are “deeply troubled” by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ lax oversight of private advisers to veterans applying for pensions and other benefits.
The senators cited a new report by the Government Accountability Office that faulted the VA for loosely enforcing its own vague rules on accrediting private financial planners, attorneys, insurance agents and others. The nonpartisan congressional agency that audits federal programs also criticized the VA for leaving itself vulnerable to abuses and for keeping veterans in the dark about their rights.
The GAO report was cited in a letter to Secretary Eric Shinseki from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman and ranking member of the veterans’ committee. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a veterans’ committee member and former chairman, and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the Senate Special Committee on Aging chairman, also signed the letter.
“We are deeply troubled by the findings indicating weaknesses in the accreditation program, which may prevent VA from ensuring that veterans are served by knowledgeable, qualified, and trustworthy representatives,” the senators wrote.
The senators said the accreditation procedures should be strengthened to protect veterans from unscrupulous advisers among the 20,000 approved by the department. They also echoed a GAO recommendation and urged the department to do a better job letting veterans know how to report abuses. Problems with the accreditation program are compounded by a lack of staff and inadequate technology, the senators added.
The latest GAO report builds on an investigation last year that found weak oversight and unclear rules made the VA ripe for abuse. That report found that some firms overcharge veterans for services or sell financial products that end up limiting veteran’s access to the benefits that they deserve.
To read the GAO report, click here.
To read the senators’ letter to the VA secretary, click here.