White House launches interagency task force to protect veterans from fraudsters

Among its actions, the task force will create a "one-stop shop" for veterans to prevent and report fraud. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will serve as a ce...

The Biden administration is launching an interagency task force this Veterans  Day to protect veterans and their families from a rise in scams.

The White House on Friday launched a new Veteran Scam and Fraud Evasion (VSAFE) campaign and task force.

Among its actions, the task force will create a “one-stop shop” for veterans to prevent and report fraud. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will serve as a central hub for reports of scams targeting veterans and service members.

White House Domestic Policy Adviser Neera Tanden told reporters on Thursday that the task force “brings together leaders from across government to kick up an all-hands effort to safeguard veterans and their families from predatory actors.”

“It’s truly outrageous that people would target veterans who’ve served our country,” Tanden said.

The administration estimates that scammers targeted veterans and their families in 93,000 fraud claims last year, costing them about $414 million in total.

The VSAFE task force includes leaders from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Education, the Federal Trade Commission, the Social Security Administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the State Department and the Defense Department.

The White House is standing up its task force as the VA ramps up its own efforts to protect veterans from scams.

The VA launched a new page on its website last month to keep veterans up to date on how fraudsters are trying to target them and their benefits.

VA Deputy Chief of Staff Maureen Elias told reporters last month that the department is seeing a large increase in unaccredited service representatives charging veterans to file their initial disability claims.

The department is also monitoring fraudsters who may improperly charge veterans applying for benefits under the toxic-exposure PACT Act. The 2022 law expands health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service.

Expanded outreach to veterans

The Biden administration is also launching an advertising campaign designed to reach veterans who have never used VA services before.

The campaign is focused on the ways the VA can help veterans stay healthy, go to school, get a job or buy a home.

Deputy VA Secretary Tanya Bradsher, who was confirmed by the Senate in September, has made it her focus to reach out to veterans who aren’t enrolled in VA health care or benefits.

“As we head into Veterans Day, we’re reminded of the fundamental promise that our country makes to anyone who signs up to serve in the military. If you fight for us, we’ll fight for you. If you serve us we’ll serve you. If you take care of us, we’ll take care of you when you come home,” Bradsher said.

A senior administration official said the new advertising campaign will build on recent efforts to spread awareness of the PACT Act.

The official said 80% of veterans are aware of the PACT Act, which has led to a 25% increase in health care enrollments and a 40% increase in benefits claims filed.

“But there’s still millions of veterans who haven’t enrolled and many of them are either just untethered, they’re just disconnected. But also, many of them are reluctant. They need more of a reason to get what they earned,” the senior administration official said.

Expanded access to health care for veterans

President Biden is directing the VA to accelerate the health care eligibility timeline under the PACT Act.

Under this accelerated timeline, all remaining cohorts of toxic-exposed veterans will be eligible to enroll in VA health care in early 2024.

This will eliminate the phase-in approach called for under the law, meaning that millions of veterans will get access to VA health care more quickly.

The VA is also launching a new graduate medical education program that will fund the salaries of 100 physicians. These clinicians will help provide health care to veterans in historically underserved communities.

“These areas, by definition, have a significant challenge with the baseline health care workforce availability in the first place …  and so part of what we have to do here is to create that workforce. And the best way to do so is to build the pipeline,” a senior administration official said.

Physicians through the program will rotate to non-VA health facilities — including those operated by Indian tribes or tribal organizations, the Indian Health Service,  partnerships with the Defense Department, and federally qualified health centers.

“In the spirit of making sure that health care assets are available to any veteran including rural, highly rural, and veterans in underserved areas, we are trying to get outside of our walls and our institution and build that workforce from the ground up,” the senior administration official said.

The Biden administration also announced that all World War II veterans are now eligible for no-cost VA health care and nursing home services.

The Cleland-Dole Act signed into law last year allows the VA to cover the full cost of care for War World War II  veterans, regardless of their disability rating and no matter what their priority group has been in the VA’s system.

“The president felt strongly, as did we, that we needed to be there for the greatest generation,” a senior administration official said.

The Army estimates that fewer than 389,000 of the 16 million Americans who fought during World War II are still alive.

VA will also now cover health care costs associated with Parkinson’s disease under the Camp Lejeune Family Member Program.

The VA already treated Parkinson’s disease as a presumptive condition under the PACT Act for veterans. A senior administration official said the White House is now addressing that “gap” in benefits for veterans family members.

“If it is a presumptive condition for veterans, then logically, it should be considered a presumptive condition for family members who lived with veterans who served at Camp Lejeune,” the official said.

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