N4T Investigators: False hopes - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: False hopes

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Tucson - "I have a weakness to trust people. And goodness sakes, $1200 a month would just be a dream," Ruth Cording says. 

Cording lives on a small fixed income. So the 84 year-old widow was thrilled when a man named Greg Bryant visited her home recently and told her he could help her get her get almost $1200 a month from a Veterans Administration benefit that's part of a "Secret Government Program." Ruth has been alone since 2014, when her husband of 64 years died. "He was the best husband a wife could have," Ruth says. 

David Cording served in the Air Force for 20 years. "He  was a fantastic man," Ruth says. "I met him when I was 12 years-old. We went to Tucson High."

Ruth told her son Dan about her pension benefit meeting with Greg Bryant, and about an expensive "application fee" Bryant mentioned. Dan told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "At the very end of the presentation, it was, "Oh, it's going to be $1495. And that's when all the alarm bells went off." 

With good reason. Because by federal law, only accredited agents and attorneys can charge fees for assisting in appeals, not basic claims. A V.A. spokesman told the News 4 Tucson Investigators it has no record that Greg Bryant is accredited. Also, the Arizona Secretary of State's spokesman told us Bryant is not registered with that office, as required by law. So at our request, Ruth and Dan set-Up a second meeting with Bryant in Ruth's home. This time, we were in an adjacent room.  After about 20 minutes, and hearing Bryant mention the application fee, we approached him. 

Bryant told us he's helped 100 people get V.A. Benefits since 2012 through his company, "greggbryant-dot-com." We asked, "Are you accredited with the V.A.? "No, I'm not," Bryant said. 

Then we had this exchange:

News 4 Tucson Investigators: "If you charge a fee you have to be accredited, and the V.A. did not find you in the system." 

Bryant: "No, I don't. I don't have to be accredited. I'm a private company and I have clients." 

Bryant said he makes his money from the $1495 application fee. We asked him, "You're not ripping off elderly people here and widows, are you?" He replied, Nope, not at all. Because if I was I'd be in jail by now."

Drew Early is an Atlanta-based attorney specializing in Elder Law. He says there are many unaccredited and unsupervised agents around the country, salesmen who never took the accreditation test and make mistakes that could be costly to people like Ruth Cording. 

Early said, "The greatest danger I think is she could physically incur an over payment, a debt, back to the U.S. government.  and the U.S. government will seek debt recovery."

Bryant had told Ruth he had a list of "happy customers." When we asked him if we could see it or he could email it to us, he said, "Why would I send you a list of my references, are you going to sign up for the program?" We replied, "You just mentioned you have at least a hundred happy customers, so I was just asking if you could show that to me." Bryant said, "I didn't necessarily say they were happy, but why would I give you a list of my references?"

We asked Bryant, "Do you own the company?" He said, I don't need to answer that question." We replied, "A legitimate business person would say who owns the company that he or she is working for." Bryant said, "I don't need to answer that question." We asked, "To whom do you answer to, sir? If you don't own the company who is your superior or your boss?" Bryant replied, "I answer to God.

Then, Bryant told us, "I'm not answering any more of your questions," and left Ruth Cording's home. 

Ruth's son, Dan, said, "There are widows of veterans that are struggling. I mean it's unconscionable. I just can't imagine doing that to somebody." Ruth said, "I am angry, and I'm not a cursing person, but I'm mad as hell."

The V.A. and Veterans service organizations offer free help in applying for this benefit, called the "Aid and Attendance" benefit.

The Veterans Administration declined our interview request, but e-mailed us this statement:

     "If a Veteran or dependent would like to file for VA benefits, they can apply online through our website at www.va.gov or by calling our toll free number 1-800-827-1000 for FREE assistance.  To learn more about VA’s Pension program, please visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/pension.

     Individuals and organizations are available to help you file a VA pension claim free of charge. A searchable list of VA-accredited representatives including Veterans Service Organizations, agents, and attorneys is available at the VA Office of General Counsel website: www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp.

     Be cautious if someone offers to move your assets around for you to qualify for VA pension. This type of scam is often directed toward Veterans and family members who do not actually qualify for VA pension. You could be required to repay these benefits to the government.

     Examples of possible pension poaching scams: 

     Organizations that cold call Veterans, charge money for assisting with a VA pension claim, and take credit card information from Veterans over the telephone.

     People who charge as much as $6,000 upfront to represent claimants before VA, with a percentage of any eventual back payment from VA as a portion of the ultimate fee."

To find a V.A. accredited agent, click here: https://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp

Remember, don't pay anything for a service you can get for free. And get that free service from an accredited agent who could save you money and heartache.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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