‘A pack of vultures.’ American Legion warns veterans about NC Company
Veterans Guardian previously the subject of WBTV investigation
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The American Legion is warning veterans about a North Carolina-based company it says preys on service members.
Veterans Guardian is based in Southern Pines but advertises itself to veterans across the country. The company says it can help veterans increase their disability benefits. In exchange, Veterans Guardian charges five times the amount of a veteran’s monthly benefit increase.
Many veterans choose to hire the company to help them apply for benefits despite the fact that other groups—including the American Legion, VFW and, in North Carolina, local government veterans service officers—provide similar services for free.
The American Legion, VFW and other veterans service organizations are accredited by the US Department of Veterans Affairs to work on behalf of veterans during the benefits claims process.
Being accredited means the organization has agreed to abide by certain federal regulations designed to protect veterans.
Veterans Guardian is not accredited. Because of that, the company’s employees cannot submit benefits claims on behalf of veterans.
Despite that, WBTV has previously reported the company did submit claims on behalf of veterans by requesting the veteran’s personal login information.
Navy veteran Scott Patterson told WBTV in 2020 the company used his login credentials to submit his benefit claim and then sent him an email confirming his claim had been submitted.
Patterson received an email from Veterans Guardian telling him his packet had been sent.
“We wanted to let you know that your claim packet has been sent and you are now one step closer to a decision on your claim,” the email from Veterans Guardian said.
Patterson also provided WBTV with an email instructing him to request records from the VA to prepare his claim.
The 2020 email included instructions on what to say, verbatim, to a VA claims representative to request certain documents. The instructions include having the documents faxed to a Veterans Guardian number but then instructs the veteran to not mention the company.
“Please have them send it in YOUR name on the cover letter, not Veterans Guardian,” the instructions repeat.
Marty Callaghan, Deputy Director of Benefits and Claims for the American Legion, issued a warning to his organization’s members last month.
In an interview with WBTV, Callaghan zeroed in on the company’s practice of charging veterans for help that other organizations provide for free.
“These companies are getting rich off of our veterans,” Callaghan said. “They’re basically, well, what can I call them? A pack of vultures.”
Callaghan called Veterans Guardian “a predatory claims company” in the message sent to American Legion members.
A spokesman for Veterans Guardian, Josh Culling, initially indicated the company would be willing to do an on-camera interview to answer questions for this story.
“I want to make sure we understand what you’re looking for so we can get you some information and a good statement or on-camera interview,” Culling said in an email.
But Culling never scheduled an interview and did not send WBTV a statement.
Instead, a lawyer representing Veterans Guardian, Mark MacDougall, called a WBTV reporter on the company’s behalf a day after Culling first responded to WBTV’s inquiry for this story.
MacDougall sent the following statement on the company’s behalf:
“Since the company’s inception less than five years ago, Veterans Guardian has helped more than 14,000 U.S. military veterans obtain benefits that they would otherwise not have received. Owned and led by veterans, the firm employs 170 associates nationwide, 140 of whom live and work in North Carolina. In serving those who have served our nation, Veterans Guardian rigorously complies with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations – and is well regarded by leading national consumer advocacy groups for its service to veterans communities. Allegations that the firm has committed regulatory violations in conducting its operations are not founded in fact. We are puzzled by the motivation of national organizations, that purport to advocate for America’s veterans, seeking to impede the work done by groups like Veterans Guardian – to assist veterans and their families find financial security by lawfully obtaining benefits that they have earned through their military service.”
MacDougall also provided multiple documents to WBTV that Veterans Guardian has clients review and sign acknowledging they could receive similar services at no cost.
Callaghan, with the American Legion, pointed out that the company’s large payroll is funded with money earned off veterans.
“Veterans Guardians, bragging about how its payrolls annual payroll is almost $4 million for all the employees it hires. That’s money taken from veterans,” he said.
Callaghan also questioned the company’s purported results for veterans, noting their results aren’t monitored and compiled by the VA, like those of accredited organizations.
“Who’s doing the counting?” Callaghan asked.
“I’m not sure how they’re coming up with those numbers but I will tell you for fiscal year 2021 veterans who are represented by the American Legion received more than $14.8 billion in new benefits from initial claims in that fiscal year.”
Copyright 2022 WBTV. All rights reserved.