Sixty-one veterans in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties are served by fudiciaries while 17 are still waiting to be assigned one.
On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer launched his push to safeguard thousands of elderly and disabled Upstate New York veterans from widespread fraud and deficiencies in the Department of Veterans Affairs fiduciary program. Specifically, Schumer demanded that the VA swiftly submit new regulations to the Office of Management and Budget that were expected for submission as far back as June. These rules are intended to help protect veterans in the fiduciary program from fraudulent and irresponsible managers who are appointed by the VA to oversee their finances and VA benefits. The VA has been known to assign strangers to these positions, and even documented criminals and gamblers, and the program has caused millions of dollars of lost benefits to our nations heroes.
The VA itself has admitted that the fiduciary program is outdated, and on numerous occasions VA officials have claimed that these new draft regulations are complete. However, those rules still sit at the VA, and Schumer urged that they be swiftly sent to OMB for approval and implemented immediately thereafter. Schumer said that these improvements must address flaws in the fiduciary appointment process; better explain VA beneficiary rights to recipients and their families; impose stricter qualifications for fiduciaries, proven through the increased use of background checks; and better oversee that fiduciaries are following responsibilities and reporting requirements once assigned to a veteran. Schumer called on the VA to better identify and report non-compliance and to increase staffing and training to improve the oversight of the fiduciary program.
"For too long, veterans have fought for our nation and survived battle, only to face friendly fire from their VA-appointed fiduciaries," said Schumer. "The VA fiduciary system, in which a third party is appointed to manage and protect the finances of elderly or mentally disabled veterans, lacks sufficient oversight, and is full of bad actors, needless delays, fraud and theft. To put it simply- enough is enough."
"What's more, the Department of Veterans Affairs has developed new rules to overhaul and update the current fiduciary program, but after months and months, is yet to submit them to the Office of Management and Budget for approval, even after claims that those rules have been completed for months. When it comes to eliminating delays in delivery of VA benefits, and protecting thousands of vulnerable New York veterans from crooks, gamblers and perfect strangers, there can be no roadblocks in the process, and I am urging their expeditious submission of these regulations. With more and more veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, there will only be more individuals in need of reliable financial protection, and the VA and then the OMB must finalize these new regulations and begin enactment immediately."
During the call, Schumer revealed a county-by-county report of elderly and mentally disabled veterans who have already been assigned fiduciaries and those who are eligible and awaiting the appointment of a fiduciary. In New York, there are 2,473 veterans that fall into the first category, and at least 507 additional veterans that await the appointment of a fiduciary. This number will only continue to increase as veterans return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming years, potentially with mental illness, and Schumer argued that the system failures that lead to fraud, delays and theft should be addressed as soon as possible. While not all fiduciaries are bad actors in this system, numerous media reports as well as Office of Inspector General investigations in 2006 and 2010 have uncovered pervasive deficiencies in the fiduciary program, and the VA has done woefully little to permanently resolve these problems.