In a change of pace from the usual insidious messages that are forwarded around the internet, the email in question does not necessarily provide bad information, but it did not, as stated, originate from the Department of Veterans Affairs. MOAA contacted the VA and VSO Liaison Kevin Secor to confirm and he stated that he never sent the message. Other sources, including the Better Business Bureau, have confirmed that Michael Dougherty is a current staff attorney for DVA, but did not write this email and that the VA did not issue this warning. However, there is some wisdom to be gleaned from the apparently fake message.
The Email (one version)
WARNING TO VETERANS
Forwarded by Kevin Secor, VSO Liaison, Office of the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
An organization called Veterans Affairs Services (VAS) is providing benefit and general information on VA and gathering personal information on veterans. This organization is not affiliated with VA in any way.
VAS may be gaining access to military personnel through their close resemblance to the VA name and seal. Our Legal Counsel has requested that we coordinate with DoD to inform military installations, particularly mobilization sites, of this group and their lack of affiliation or endorsement by VA to provide any services.
In addition, GC requests that if you have any examples of VAS acts that violate chapter 59 of Title 38 United States Code, such as VAS employees assisting veterans in the preparation and presentation of claims for benefits, please pass any additional information to Mr.Daugherty at the address below.
Michael G. Daugherty
Department of Veterans Affairs
Office of General Counsel (022G2)
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
As stated above, the message is not an official DVA release. As reported by the Better Business Bureau:
“Someone pretending to be an attorney with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is sending an email to military veterans “warning” them against using the services of a group called Veterans Affairs Services. BBB Military Line, a complaint resource specialized for the military and their families, has received several inquiries about the email.”
“The BBB advises anyone who receives this email to not click on the link. You should never click on links in emails that are from unknown sources as they may contain viruses. Such viruses are typically designed to steal private information from your computer. Also, the VA advises veterans seeking the assistance of a VA-recognized service organization for purposes of submitting a claim for VA benefits to search at the General Counsel’s accreditation search page.”
Author’s Note: The Link referred to by the BBB has been omitted from this article and the only link in the example email is to the home page of VAS.
VAS describes themselves as a ‘non-profit veterans service organization’ but they are not recognized as a chartered or non-chartered VSO. Check the full list of VSOs here. They are, however, registered as a charitable 501(c)(3) organization. MOAA has not had any formal dealings with VAS so we can not comment on their dealings with veterans or their legitimacy. The VAS shield can conceivably be seen as a ‘close resemblance’ of the VA’s, so the email is on base with that statement, as you can see here:
Compared to the seal of the VA:
However, the VAS site does contain the following language in their web wrapper:
While the email is not what it purports to be, the message lends itself to a much bigger issue of the exploitation of veterans using survivor benefits as a hook by financial services companies to get their business. It is a growing problem, and one that MOAA is paying close attention to, especially the tactics being used. Speaking with Lt Col. Shane Ostrom, USAF (Ret.), MOAA’s Deputy Director of Benefits Information, he stated:
“This marketing plan by financial firms is only getting worse and will continue. I had one MOAA member state they wanted him to start trusts where assets could be hidden appearing to be poor in order to qualify for VA benefits based on financial need. He said the plan was to move his assets into the trust and replace his current assets in the trust with annuities. There would be no reason for this except to generate high commissions for the financial firm.”
Another member of the MOAA benefits team, Mr. Phil Dyer, a CFP, also stressed the dangers of financial firms soliciting via VA survivor programs:
“At a time when major budgetary pressures are coming, these companies – while not advocating outright fraud (mostly) are trying to shoe-horn people into a benefit they might not otherwise qualify for while enriching them in the process and (potentially, depending on the state) dis-inheriting children/grandchildren depending on the annuity beneficiary requirements.”
In other words, be careful who you put your trust in when it comes to financial matters and veterans benefits. This email may be bogus, and VAS has not been implicated in any wrongdoing that we are aware of, but many companies out there have been trying to fleece the veterans community, or at least take advantage of it. The true warning to veterans that should be ringing through the web is the fragility of their earned benefits, from TRICARE and Tricare for Life, to retirement pay and continuing attacks on personnel costs by deficit hawks that have a way of disregarding the concepts of sacrifice and honoring promises. There is a war ahead of us, and we’ll need all hands on deck this next year and beyond to avoid the deep cuts that are being floated by the deficit commissions and congressional members.
MOAA’s Financial Frontlines blog recently ran a story about financial companies exploiting VA survivor benefits and using phone marketing to get their foot in the door. Read the entire story here.
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