Congressman Thomas J. Rooney

Representing the 17th District of Florida

Act would protect veterans against fraud

Mar 21, 2016
Op-Ed
Charlotte Sun

My wife and I were in the Army when two of our three sons were born. Our oldest was born five days before Sept. 11, while I was a prosecutor in the JAG Corps at Fort Hood, Texas. Our second was born at West Point, while I was teaching constitutional and criminal law there.

We have always tried to instill in our boys the understanding of what it means to be a veteran and how important it is to treat every veteran with the utmost respect. When I ask what the word “veteran” means to them, they say things like “hero,” “soldier” and “I look up to them.” Words I never hear from them are “vulnerable” or “targeted.”

Unfortunately, we live in a world today where not all people treat veterans with the utmost respect. We live in a world where too many veterans have become both targeted and vulnerable in our society.

Last year, I started hearing stories of individuals advertising themselves to the veterans community claiming that, for a hefty fee, they can speed up the claims process with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

We all know that the claims process at the VA is far too slow and takes far too long. My office works with veterans on a daily basis to assist them with their claims and expedite the process when possible. When I hear that people are singling out veterans, targeting them based on their vulnerabilities and earning a significant profit off them — that is just sickening.

As the law currently stands, only agents or attorneys who have met all standard qualifications and standards prescribed by the VA may charge a small fee to assist a veteran or claimant in an appeals case. It is against the law for anyone who isn’t approved to charge any fee for helping a veteran filing a claim or an appeal, but currently there is no criminal or financial penalty for breaking this law.

As appalling as this is, defrauding a veteran for financial gain, without a criminal penalty associated, people are getting away with it. The laws on the books are not sufficient in deterring criminals from illegally targeting our veterans. The reality is that this is happening, and something has to be done about it.

Joined by my Florida neighbor Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, I introduced a bipartisan bill to penalize those wishing to make money by illegally defrauding veterans.

The Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act would penalize fraudsters who blatantly engage in a scheme to defraud a veteran of his benefits, or in connection with obtaining that veteran’s benefits, by imposing a fine, imprisonment of up to five years, or both.

I cannot let my boys grow up in a world where our war heroes are targeted and the perpetrators can get away with it. These criminals have to pay the price for their despicable actions, and this legislation will give law enforcement the tools they need to punish them.

I know Washington doesn’t come to agreements on many things. But I am confident that ensuring our laws properly protect veterans from being sought out and defrauded is something all my colleagues in the House can get behind. I’m hopeful we can come together to better protect those who have put their lives on the line to protect all of us.