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Rubio, Warren Renew Joint Push to Target Those Scamming Veterans

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) walk to President Obama's State of the Union address on Jan. 12, 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – The unusual congressional pairing of Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) reintroduced legislation Wednesday aimed at protecting low-income and aging veterans from financial scams.

The legislation targets service members enrolled in the Veterans Affairs Aid and Attendance program, which provides financing for assisted-living and in-home care. Rubio and Warren claim that scammers have been fraudulently charging program participants with service fees. Perpetrators have also been improperly managing individuals’ assets and moving them into irrevocable trusts and annuities, potentially disqualifying them from other aid programs like Medicaid.

Rubio and Warren’s legislation called on the VA to coordinate with other federal and state agencies in investigating and prosecuting the scammers.

“It’s terrible when anyone falls prey to scam artists who rob them of money, but it’s especially despicable when our most vulnerable veterans are targeted by criminals pretending to help them receive federal benefits,” Rubio said in a statement.

Rubio and Warren first introduced the bill in 2014.

Andy Williams, a retired Marine with a financial services background, said in an interview Thursday that these scams are common with older veterans. Williams, a member of the American Association of Private Lenders who has experience in private equity, served in Iraq and has worked with Blackwater, supports the bill, but he suggested the federal government go a step further in establishing a program that would educate and allow entrepreneurial veterans to work in the caregiver business. The proposal, he said, solves multiple issues: It puts idle veterans to work, provides care for veterans in need, and allows for a system with built-in integrity.

The current system, he said, allows for individuals to build small businesses around caregiving for veterans. Without the right mission, mindset and integrity, many of the managers of these businesses exploit the situation.

“You can make a lot of money really quick by taking advantage of it,” he said. “The fact of having to try to trust the person that’s caring for you really shouldn’t be a factor. It’s a soft target, if you want to use military terms.”

However, the business model for providing care for veterans is not lucrative enough for major financial institutions to pursue, which is the reason it allows opportunity for individuals.

“It’s a multimillion-dollar industry, but the area of interest, and the area of consideration where the bills are being passed, is that entrepreneurial space,” he said. “If you were to fragment it and offer programs where veterans take care of veterans, and they can get funding through entrepreneurial programs, you would” build an integration platform for veterans looking to make an honest living, with a built-in military service mindset.

Joe Plenzler, director of media relations at American Legion and a retired Marine Corps veteran, described in an interview Thursday the various scams he has seen targeting veterans. He said he has seen everything from car dealerships outside military bases charging 60 percent interest for a car loan to scammers posing as veterans to defraud the government out of tens of thousands of dollars in benefits.

“I think it’s beyond that, too. When these things are identified in a systemic fashion, for instance, with people taking advantage of veterans seeking aid, the VA’s got a responsibility to actually elevate that within the federal government to agencies that actually do investigate, prosecute these crimes,” he said.