September 27, 2022
The Honorable Richard Blumenthal
706 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable John Boozman
141 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senators Blumenthal and Boozman,
I write to express some concern with the GUARD VA Benefits Act, which will unintentionally deprive many veterans of private assistance in preparing disability benefits claims, which are submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Because we all share the goal of supporting our disabled vets, it is my hope that your legislation can be reworked to provide for an “all of the above” approach that preserves a veteran’s right to choose how best to navigate the broken VA.
Our veterans have earned the best health care in the world as a result of their service to our nation, but the six-figure backlog at the VA suggests that access to care is disturbingly lacking. Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) offer free VA claims preparation assistance, but many veterans have expressed difficulty navigating the system even with their help.
Such a big bureaucracy often requires more than just a single volunteer helping a veteran prepare his or her claims. There are a number of private companies that have stepped in to fill a gap in the marketplace, wherein veterans are simply not equipped to secure the benefits they deserve on their own, or with the help of volunteer VSO representatives.
There are accredited lawyers who can help veterans file an appeal for benefits denied for a fee. Unfortunately, not only can they not prepare the initial claim, veterans networking groups have told horror stories of attorneys collecting a veteran’s retainer payment and disappearing altogether.
Under the current accreditation system, accredited agents, such as lawyers, can only assist veterans with an appeal for a denied claim. The accredited agents are not permitted to assist with the full spectrum of veterans’ needs, including assistance with initial claims and secondary claims.
Some private companies offer a full suite of support, including screenings, benefit eligibility counseling and assistance compiling all necessary information for the disability claims submission. In my opinion, the best actors in this space charge a fee only when they succeed in securing or increasing a veteran’s VA rating, and only a portion of the veteran’s increase.
Unfortunately, your bill appears to criminalize actors like these, who are taking on a government bureaucracy on behalf of disabled veterans, just as companies like TurboTax are taking on the IRS on behalf of taxpayers. Veterans deserve the same level of outside support, should they choose to use it.
I urge you to reexamine the aspects of the GUARD VA Benefits Act, and to resist throwing the baby out with the bath water. We must increase the VA’s capability to enforce laws against exploitation and punish truly bad actors. But we cannot label all for-profit companies “exploitative.” These are the words the left has used for years to punish the private sector. In this case, the stakes are even higher: Hundreds of thousands of disabled veterans will remain without the benefits they’ve earned if we continue to restrict their options.
The country is better off for the strong stand for veterans your committee has taken throughout your years of public service. Please reconsider this legislation, which runs counter to our shared, longstanding goal of fighting for our men and women in uniform.
Frontiers of Freedom
CC: Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
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