Veterans, beware of scammers promising help to get toxic exposure benefits

Hines VA Hospital has heard reports that Chicago-area veterans are among those being targeted by scammers offering to help process or submit PACT Act claims on a veteran’s behalf.

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A sign marks the entrance to the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, Illinois.

A sign marks the entrance to the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, Illinois.

Scott Olson/Getty

When President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act into law last August, it ushered in one of the greatest expansions of veterans’ health care benefits in American history. It’s certainly the largest I’ve seen in my 20 years working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, first as a nurse and now as director of the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital.

The PACT Act, which stands for Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, expands VA health care and benefits to potentially millions of veterans, and their survivors, who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances from the Vietnam War era to post-9/11 conflicts. These are benefits they have earned and fully deserve.

Unfortunately, this ground-breaking law has also brought out scammers looking to take advantage of our nation’s heroes.

Since August, the VA has heard of an increase in fraudulent PACT Act-related phishing emails, phone calls, and social media messages and ads. Hines VA Hospital has also heard reports from local government officials that Chicago-area veterans are among those being targeted. Many of these scams offer to help process or submit claims on a veteran’s behalf.

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Veterans, be extremely cautious of anyone contacting you with guarantees of lucrative financial gain or service through the PACT Act or any VA disability claim. Never offer personal or financial information to someone contacting you. Do not click on any internet ads, emails or text message links that look suspicious.

Scammers may be impersonating the VA or other federal agencies. While the VA is letting veterans know about the PACT Act, it will only contact you directly if you’ve filed for compensation or made a request. VA will never charge you to submit a claim or request health care benefits.

Some predatory companies also target veterans in exchange for compensation or a portion of future benefits. While any veteran or survivor can retain a lawyer to help file claims, the VA never requires it. If veterans or survivors are interested in working with an agent or attorney, check with VA’s Office of General Counsel to confirm their legal credentials.

Please, report any suspected fraud to reportfraud.ftc.gov. Your reports can help keep fellow veterans from being targeted. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Generations of veterans and survivors may qualify for care and compensation under the PACT Act. We want everyone eligible to apply as soon as possible and as safely as possible. VA will start processing PACT Act claims on Jan. 1, 2023.

The quickest and safest way to see if you may qualify for PACT Act benefits and care is to speak to a VA health care provider. Every veteran enrolled in VA health care will get a five-minute Toxic Exposure Screening and a follow-up screening every five years to help determine their eligibility.

Veterans can safely apply for PACT Act benefits at VA.gov/disability. For health care benefits, visit VA.gov/health-care, or call 877-222-8387. Veterans can also bring a completed VA Form 10-10EZ to Hines VA Hospital’s Eligibility Office, in our main entrance lobby and available by phone at 708-202-8387, extension 28838.

If veterans need help filing a PACT Act claim and don’t want VA assistance, we encourage them to reach out to trusted veterans service organizations, like the VFW, American Legion or Disabled American Veterans (DAV). These organizations have representatives in many VA medical centers, including Hines, to help file claims.

Veterans can also reach out to their county’s Veterans Assistance Commission. For Cook County, visit vacofcookcounty.org.

The PACT Act is the next step in providing care and benefits to as many as 5 million veterans. If you have any questions about your benefits, eligibility or care, or if you suspect PACT Act scammers are targeting you, please reach out. It’s our mission to serve those who served.

The holiday season allows us all a moment to reflect on what we’re grateful for. I’m grateful for our nation’s veterans. I look forward to seeing the many more veterans able to receive care at Hines VA through the PACT Act for years to come.

James Doelling is director of Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, Illinois’ largest VA medical center.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.


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