Editorial: Let’s stop swindling disabled vets

A fter years of dedicated service to their country, some mentally disabled military veterans who need help managing their finances are getting shortchanged by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Too many have fallen victim to fiduciaries the U.S. government appointed to act in their best interest when the veterans are considered incapable of managing their own money.

Instead of swiftly and efficiently addressing the growing problems, the total of the losses from the fraud and thefts has been distorted in reports to Congress. Accountability failures are being blamed on an antiquated computer system that could have been replaced for a small fraction of the money veterans have lost.

The fiduciary program is in dire need of reform to combat the rampant scams plaguing veterans participating in this program.

It is not a new problem. A Hearst Newspapers investigation revealed the VA has removed 467 fiduciaries for misuse of veterans' money in the last six years, but only a few have been prosecuted.

The Hearst analysis of court documents also found that since 1998 more than $14.7 million has been stolen from veterans. The inspector general's office reports only $7.4 million in thefts during that same period.

It should not have required an independent review of the records to get the proper figures before Congress.

More than 127,000 veterans with assets of more than $3.3 billion in assets require appointed fiduciaries.

That is not chump change, yet there are no training requirements or professional qualifications for those taking on the role, and there is no limit on the number of cases a single fiduciary can handle.

Some small strides are being made in improving the situation, but a lot of work remains.

Only in the last seven months have background checks been mandated. In the past, potential fiduciaries had to present a self-generated criminal history and a credit report.

The Hearst Newspapers investigation found many of the appointed fiduciaries who got into trouble for taking veterans' money were gambling addicts, psychiatric patients and convicted criminals.

Texas has the dubious distinction of having twice as many prosecutions for fraud and theft among VA-appointed fiduciaries as any other state, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Does that mean Texas is more aggressive about seeking punishment or there are more cases here? Either way, it illustrates a bad situation.

This abuse must be halted. Unsuspecting disabled veterans must no longer be used as pawns in a high-stakes games being played by unscrupulous government-appointed fiduciaries.

The Veterans Fiduciary Act of 2012 seeks to address many of the program's problems. It merits bipartisan support and swift passage.

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