Applying for VA benefits is free. But you can also get legitimate free help with completing your paperwork and filing a claim. Scammers may try to trick you into paying them or giving them your benefits, including pension benefits for a veteran or survivor, or veterans disability compensation (including PACT Act and Aid and Attendance benefits). Here are some things to know if you’re a veteran (or family member) thinking about applying for VA benefits.
The VA doesn’t charge you to file a claim for pension or other benefits. In some cases, an accredited attorney or claims agent may be able to charge you a fee for preparing an appeal of your claim — but only after a VA regional office issues a decision on your claim. The accredited attorney or agent must also file a power of attorney and a fee agreement with the VA. Never pay money upfront.
If you’re completing the application yourself, don’t pay for forms. Blank forms are available to download for free from ebenefits.va.gov, the VA’s benefits site.
To apply for VA benefits, visit the VA's online benefits portal or contact a VA Regional Office near you. To learn more about qualifying and applying, call 1-800-827-1000 or go to the VA’s sites related to
- VA Disability Claims
- Pact Act Claims
- Aid and Attendance or Housebound Benefits
- Veterans Pension
- VA Survivors Pension
Need help? Use VA-accredited agents, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), or accredited attorneys. Start by confirming that the person helping you is accredited by the VA.
- The VA’s Office of the General Counsel maintains a searchable list of approved individuals. “Accredited by the VA” means a provider is trained in how to fill out paperwork, how to work through the VA claims and appeals processes, and how to file claims. Check this list before discussing your pension or other benefits with anyone outside of the VA.
- Or go to the VA’s site eBenefits.va.gov to find a recognized VSO, an attorney, or a claims agent by state/territory, zip code, or the organization’s name. Free help in navigating your options may also be available from state veterans’ affairs offices and your state insurance regulator.
- Just because someone says they’re an attorney or from a VSO is not enough — they must be accredited by the VA and on the agency’s list of approved advisers. Keep in mind that the words “veterans” or “military families” in an organization’s name don’t necessarily mean that the group represents the best interests of veterans or their families. Some dishonest advisers use names, seals, and logos that look or sound like those of respected, legitimate organizations.
Dishonest “advisers” may call, email, or show up at community centers, assisted living facilities, or nursing homes, offering help with moving your money around to make it look like you qualify for benefits. They may guarantee they can get you a pension or disability benefit. Sometimes these so-called advisers will offer you a lump sum of money in exchange for some of your future payments. Here’s what to know before applying for or making decisions about your benefits.
Don’t work with anyone who pressures you to move your money around to qualify for a benefit. Unscrupulous advisers may say they can make your financial situation look like you qualify for Aid and Attendance or other benefits when you’re not actually eligible. These advisers don’t tell you that, when VA discovers you don’t qualify, you have to pay back any benefits they already paid you. And you might lose other government benefits or tie up money that you need to live on. Adding insult to injury, the dishonest advisers charge fees that range from hundreds to thousands of dollars for their supposed services.
Don’t let offers to buy your benefits upfront cause you more financial harm than good. If you need to raise cash fast, some dishonest advisers may offer you a lump sum payment in exchange for a substantial portion of your future benefits payments. Sometimes that means giving over your future payments for a set period (for instance, 12 months). But when you sign over your benefits payments for an upfront payment, you won’t get all the money you would’ve collected over time. That could leave you without a way to pay your bills.
Know that getting a lump sum also might affect your taxes. The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program specializes in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to taxpayers who are 60 or older. Go to the Taypayer Advocate Service website to find a TCE program near you.
No one can guarantee you’ll get benefits from the VA. Even accredited people on the VA’s Office of the General Counsel list can’t guarantee that you’ll get VA pension or disability benefits after you apply. Only the VA can determine eligibility and award benefits and services.
Say no to any pressure to act fast. If you decide to meet with an adviser or attend a presentation about VA benefits
- Don’t spend any money until you’ve had time to think about the options. Ask about as many potential scenarios as you can think of and get specific and detailed responses. If the adviser or salesperson gives you vague or evasive answers, or pressures you to make a decision quickly, walk away. This is not a person you want to trust with your money, your benefits, or your future.
- Read all the papers and the contract carefully. Understand all the terms, conditions, and implications of what they’re asking you to do.
- Get everything you discussed in writing. If something isn’t clear to you, ask for an explanation in writing.
Take your time to review and consider all your options, including doing nothing. You may have a right to take additional time. For instance, if you’re considering an annuity, you get a “free look” period before the contract is final. How long the period lasts depends on state law. This is your chance to decide you don’t want the annuity, return the contract, and get your money back.
- Discuss the possibilities with a trusted friend or family member.
- Don’t sign any blank forms that will be filled in later.
- Be sure your VA benefits are deposited directly into your account — and not the account of an adviser, assisted living facility, or nursing home.
Safeguard your personal information. Never share your VA login credentials or password. Protect your information and data by using strong passwords and multi-factor (also called two-factor) authentication. Check out VA’s advice on setting up multifactor authentication on your VA accounts.
If you have a problem with an adviser charging an upfront fee to help with your VA claims or other deceptive practices
If you want to report a problem with the sale of an annuity or other insurance product
- File a complaint with your state insurance regulator
If you think a lawyer has behaved unethically
- Report them to your state Bar Association