U.S. Veterans Affairs officials are urging those who receive veterans benefits to sign up for electronic deposits to avoid extra fees and lower the risk of identity theft.
During a dial-in virtual meeting Wednesday, Under Secretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence told former military members in Pennsylvania to consider switching from receiving benefit payments by check or debit card to direct deposits through the Veterans Benefits Banking Program.
Through the program, veterans can set up free checking accounts for receiving benefits electronically at one of 33 participating banks and credit unions.
Checks and debit cards are “expensive and can cause problems,” Lawrence said. In comparison, he said electronic transfers are “safer and cheaper and better protected from identify theft.”
With paper checks, he said, a veteran might have to pay fees to have them cashed in addition to waiting for them to arrive by mail.
. More information can be found by visiting veteransbenefitsbanking.org.
Identity theft isn’t the only scam that can separate veterans from their earned financial benefits. A survey by AARP found that veterans are twice as likely to fall victim to scammers as is the general population.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Operation Protect Veterans lists a number of common scams that target veterans.
In phishing scams, veterans may receive calls or email messages about programs allegedly paying thousands of dollars in benefits — but the caller asks for personal information.
Other bogus calls may offer to refinance a Veterans Affairs loan at a lower rate.
Lawrence also suggested veterans check in with VA representatives at least every three to five years to see if they might qualify for additional benefits through potential program changes, changes in marital or other life status, or a decline in their health and abilities, driven by advancing age.
He said those who, conversely, owe a debt to the VA and are experiencing financial distress during the coronavirus pandemic may contact the department’s debt management center, at 800-827-0648 to request a temporary suspension of payments or a revision of the payment schedule.
One caller complained that he’d been engaged for more than two years in an appeal of the level of his disability recognized by VA officials.
Lawrence acknowledged that the department’s “old appeals process took three to seven years. It was difficult and onerous.”
Since the Appeals Modernization Act went into effect last year, he said, that time frame has been reduced to several months instead of several years.
Visit va.gov or call 1-800-827-1000 for more information about various benefits available to veterans.
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