‘Pension Poachers’ Are Targeting America’s Elderly Veterans

During his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that America should serve its soldiers long after they were done serving it. Coming just weeks before final victory in a gruesome civil war that killed at least 750,000, his words would become the motto for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Today, a metal plaque marking the entrance to the agency’s headquarters recites the VA’s duty to U.S. soldiers. Its mission—as Lincoln said in 1865—is to “care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”

Larry Eber was one of those soldiers. But today’s VA is having a hard time protecting veterans like him.

After serving in Vietnam, Eber returned home in 1970 to California. At first he found work stocking supermarket shelves and servicing swimming pools. But re-acclimating was difficult. He developed a drinking problem and began to suffer from schizophrenia. Sometimes he would find himself homeless.

For decades, Eber existed on society’s periphery. But at the age of 73, with his health deteriorating, he decided to make one last try for a better life. With the help of his younger brother Rick, Eber turned to the VA.

In 2016, the agency placed Larry in recovery and found him temporary housing. A staff member suggested he apply for “aid and assistance” benefits—a monthly payment for qualifying veterans in need of help with personal care and chores. To sign up, Larry was instructed to fill out forms that he later learned were from Veterans Care Coordination, a private company based outside St. Louis, Missouri, that touts itself as a go-between that helps veterans access benefits.

That’s when Larry’s plan to fix his life went sideways.

According to his brother, Larry was inundated with a flurry of documents to sign and fine print he didn’t understand. What he didn’t realize at the time was that the money would ultimately be spent on help he didn’t need, and fees for VCC. Even worse, the new benefits would eventually have dire implications for Larry’s existing government aid—leaving him worse off than when he started.