It’s a cruel twist of fate when those who have served their country are targeted by scams funded, directly or indirectly, by the Department of Defense. As if veterans don’t have enough to deal with from the upfront issues the DoD and VA create, it seems we are in reality getting it from both ends. These scams, ranging from financial fraud to bogus healthcare schemes, not only rob veterans of their hard-earned benefits but also erode their trust in the system.
Educational Benefit Scams
One of the most prevalent scams involves the misuse of the GI Bill, designed to “help veterans further their education.”
Fraudulent educational institutions, often termed 'diploma mills,' lure veterans with the promise of a fast and easy degree. They exploit DoD funding to collect tuition fees for subpar or nonexistent educational programs, leaving veterans with worthless degrees and depleted educational benefits.
A fancy website, a nice coat of arms, and a little creative paperwork allow these ‘institutions’ to not only take away your education dollars for little or no return, but because those funds are gone, they also remove the ability to take full advantage of those benefits at a real school to course correct. One would assume the department would do more checking into the organizations it issues checks to… But apparently you would be wrong.
The Veterans Health Administration, funded by the DoD, has been a target for healthcare fraud in the same way as fake learning institutions. Scammers set up fake healthcare facilities or overbill for services, draining resources meant for veterans' medical care, leaving those veterans struggling to receive the care they need, with funds intended for their treatment lining the pockets of fraudulent traitors. The expansion of dedicated VA clinics in recent years can combat some of this, but the other side of the coin is that legitimate hospitals do the same. A $2 roll of gauze in a hospital I worked in cost the patient $80. High quality medical care indeed.
Pension / Disability Poaching
Pension poaching involves scammers offering to help veterans apply for benefits, only to steal their information and divert pension payments. These schemes are often sophisticated, with scammers setting up fake charities or legal services to appear legitimate, ultimately defrauding both the veterans and the DoD. Similar scams exist with organizations which claim to help veterans increase their VA disability ratings.
There ARE legitimate groups which, for a reasonable fee, will aid in the fight to get the VA to accept that the gunshot wound in your shoulder was in fact service connected, but do your research. Talk to other vets with positive experiences using these groups, and if the group sounds shady, assume they are.
Job scams target veterans transitioning back to civilian life. Fraudulent companies, funded indirectly through DoD job placement programs, promise employment opportunities but instead extract fees or personal information from veterans. These frauds not only financially harm veterans but also impede their efforts to reintegrate into civilian life, causing them to spend even more time putting their lives back together and less time getting set for the future.
Many companies hire vets, often offering solid competitive salaries, but like before, ask around. I was offered a lucrative deal on my EAS date, which I immediately disbelieved. Once I found a few friends familiar with the organization I moved ahead, but without references I wouldn’t even have picked up the phone to apply.
Some retailers and travel sites have actual contracts with the DoD to supply services to military members, such as American Forces Travel. They cater to us exclusively, and because they can be used for ‘official’ travel, they look attractive to leadership. Whether or not I can legally call this a scam, it is. Prices almost across the board are 40-60% higher than the exact same reservations on the civilian market. If Google Hotels or Booking.com give me the hotel for $1300, and AFT charges me $2700, what else should we call that but a fraud?
They have not responded to our inquiries for a comment.
DoD Response to Scams
Recognizing the rampant abuse of its funds, has ramped up oversight and regulation. This includes stricter vetting of educational institutions eligible for GI Bill benefits and enhanced monitoring of healthcare billing practices. Despite this, the crackdowns seem to really target troops, as if we were the problem. In a recent controversial decision, the Army has said they will no longer pay to store deploying soldier’s household goods or vehicles, to ‘stop unauthorized reimbursements.’
I can’t speak for everyone, but I filled out paperwork and someone the Marine Corps hired came and got my things. Where in that chain did I have access to their cash or choose my mover? Sounds fishy, Army.
The amount of time, money, and effort needed to combat crimes which should have been stopped with the government pointing their oversight in the correct direction instead of its servicemembers makes that process difficult. Don’t misunderstand, there is some grift in the ranks, but not to the scale of all the organizations listed above. Add to that the tendency of commands and civilian administrators to minimize their roles to either escape blame or responsibility for a lack of oversight, and there is often little that can be done aside from raising a monumental stink until you receive help just to get you to stop bothering them. Until the DoD and leadership can do a better job of protecting their servicemembers from these issues, the best we can really do is be vigilant.
Research, check reviews, be skeptical of ‘dream offers’, and hold people accountable whenever possible.