Maryland seeks to weed out ‘bad actors’ engaging in Veterans Affairs claims and appeals services


Hannah Saunders


Under current federal law, it is illegal for anyone to charge a U.S. military veteran money for filing an initial claim through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which administers benefit programs for vets and their family members. The Maryland Health and Government Operations Committee met Tuesday to discuss House Bill 875, which would protect former service members from predatory VA claims and appeals. 

“I’m a proud Army veteran with multiple deployments to Afghanistan, and I’ve also been through the entire VA process—from filing multiple VA claims, to being evaluated, to appealing those claims and everything [else],” said Del. Nick Allen (D-Baltimore County).

Stay one step ahead. Join our email list for the latest news.


While Allen has, overall, had positive experiences with filing VA claims, he said he’s heard numerous stories about the slow-moving and dysfunctional nature of the VA, and noted that an entire industry has risen up around VA claims and appeals. 

“A lot of people have made a lot of money as a result of the VA’s dysfunction. I believe this creates a perverse incentive around helping veterans with their claims and appeals,” Allen said. “It is illegal to charge a veteran to assist in filing an appeal, unless the entity that’s assisting the veteran is an accredited veteran service organization (VSO).”

Allen said many groups charge exorbitant bills to veterans that far surpass what VSOs are allowed to charge, and veterans have the option to go to any accredited entity that doesn’t charge fees. He said veterans signed up to serve their country, not to get scammed.

HB 875 would penalize unaccredited organizations involved in VA claims and appeals processes. Federal laws and penalties penalizing unaccredited organizations were repealed in 2006.

“There are currently two pieces of federal legislation that seek to address this problem, but they’re being held up in Congress currently. And let’s be honest, they probably aren’t going to pass anytime soon. Frankly, our veterans cannot wait.”

— Allen 

Kurt Surber, an Army commander representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Department of Maryland, said the VFW is committed to putting predatory claims sharks out of business. 

“As claims sharks spend millions on lobbyists, and [are] pursuing federal legislation to legitimize their actions, clearly their predatory practices must be very lucrative. These claims sharks are using their money to clog up the works in the beltway,” Surber said. 

Patrick Murray, director of the national legislative service for the VFW, also discussed predatory claims sharks.

“We’ve seen an increase in all nine advertisements that target veterans and survivors of earned VA benefits. Many of these groups promise to increase VA disability ratings. They argue that charging thousands of dollars [somehow] makes them more effective in assisting veterans in the free services offered by state, county, and veteran VSOs.”

— Murray

Murray said fees charged for claims are capped, but as a loophole, unaccredited consultants use contracts of commitment by veterans to pay for all or a significant portion of benefits. 

VFW representatives discussed an ongoing lawsuit between Veterans Guardian—a veterans claims consulting company—and two veterans: Col. John F. Rudman and Sgt. Andre Jesus Soto. The veterans challenged New Jersey’s Senate Bill 3292, which prevents companies from charging veterans fees for assistance with filing disability claims, unless the company is accredited by the VA. Veterans Guardian helps vets navigate the VA’s disability claims process through reviewing relevant documents, developing supporting evidence, identifying strategies, and advising on the preparation and submission of a claim. 

The active lawsuit alleges that Veterans Guardian only charges a fee if the veteran’s disability claim is successful. The company says it discloses available free services to vets seeking to file VA disability claims. Both plaintiffs attempted to use Veterans Guardian to file disability claims. Rudman was denied benefits on the grounds that his injuries were not deemed to be service-related, and sought assistance from Veterans Guardian. Similarly, Soto was unsuccessful with obtaining VA disability benefits and reached out to Veterans Guardian. A month after Soto’s disability claim was prepared, SB 3292 was enacted and the company could not provide services. 

Bill Taylor, COO and co-founder of Veterans Guardian, said he appreciates the intent of HB 875, and agreed that there are some bad actors and practices in place. 

“We are a transparent and ethical company helping veterans receive the benefits they are entitled to, based on their honorable service,” Taylor said.

According to Taylor, Veterans Guardian assisted over 25,000 veterans with VA disability benefits, and hopes to protect veterans from unscrupulous actions, but would like to see more precision with the legislation. 

Veterans Guardian presented an amendment on HB 875, which lists a number of protections, including compensation price caps and background checks on employees. It also prevents companies from operating on a fee-based service model. 

When addressing the civil lawsuit, Taylor said that some former clients are claiming that Veterans Guardian was acting illegally, and that they are seeking to take advantage of the situation for financial gain. Members of the Health and Government Committee did not vote on the bill.

Leave a Comment