Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Veterans Beware, "They Got Your Number!"

Michael Finney

An often overlooked veterans' benefit has now come into the spotlight. The problem is some vets think they have to pay to get the benefit. The program is sometimes called the VA's best kept secret and for some low income veterans it can be a lifesaver.

Veterans and their spouses can qualify for help through a program called Veterans' Aid and Attendance. It is there for those who need assistance with self care and have a low income. It helped Archie and Doris Uchida when they need it most. Their daughter, Debbie Uchida, also spoke to us about this.

"It is a big chunk of money to offset the cost of an assisted living facility," said Debbie.

Willard Smith, 93, heard about the program and was referred to Charles Enea.

"He didn't mention money for the first half of this month-long deal," said Smith.

Smith said Enea worked on securing the veteran's benefit, even bringing in an attorney to set up an irrevocable trust. Smith and his wife received the benefit.

"When I asked him how he got reimbursed he said he was certified for '250' an hour. I thought gee, $2.50 an hour, that's a pretty low fee for $2-and-a-half an hour, that is nothing," said Smith.

Smith said he thought Enea was a volunteer for a seniors group -- then Smith got the bill.

"It was for just over $10,000," said Smith.

Apparently that $2.50 was $250 an hour.

"This is financial elder abuse, what has happened to the Millers," said attorney Kathryn Stebner. "When you take money from an elder with the intent to defraud them, in California, that is elder abuse."

Attorneys Stebner and Sarah Colby represent the Smith's in a suit against Charles Enea, his brother John Enea, and attorney Quinton Miller. Stebner said this is Charles' business. So, I went to the company's office, but he wasn't in.

There is also a website run by Veterans' Benefit Group, Inc. It says it helps veterans with aid and attendance. It also says it is a charity. 7 On Your Side cross referenced that site with the Secretary of State database and it shows John is the agent for the Veterans' Benefit Group. I went to the charity's listed address, but was told John wasn't in the office.

Charles called 7 On Your Side to say he and his brother's attorneys do have the papers, but there would be no comment pending litigation.

Although we left messages, we never made contact with Quinton Miller.

I asked Stebner, "The guy got them a benefit, where is the issue?" and she responded, "By law Mr. Enea shouldn't have charged. This is the law."

I checked with the Contra Costa County Veterans Service Office and was told they file this type of paperwork for free.

"There should be no fee for assisting veterans. What people do, though, is sell certain products to veterans and have them move assets around and make money off of that. But there is really no reason to do that because County Veterans Services and national service organizations provide the same service at no cost to veterans and family members," said Michael Hoffschneider from the Veterans Service Office.

California attorney Prescott Cole is with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. Here is his advice for all seniors: "If you are going to talk about money with a complete stranger, chances are you won't do very good. At least talk with all the people that you know. "

We are told the attorney who set up the trust has been certified to do this type of veterans' work. Still, the Smiths' attorney says that legal maneuver has cost their clients money and grief.

Although aid and attendance payments can be as high as a couple thousand dollars a month for a couple, it is paid on a sliding scale, so it is possible to qualify and only receive a few dollars a month.


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