A proposed class action lawsuit alleges that neither VA Claims Insider LLC nor its employees or directors are accredited by the federal government, meaning they cannot lawfully help veterans prepare disability compensation claims.
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The 51-page lawsuit contends that although the plaintiffs— Georgia-based veterans aid group Warriors and Family Assistance Center, Veterans Affairs-accredited agent Tonya Price, Ohio law firm Manring & Farrell and VA-accredited attorney Clifford Farrell—are qualified, accredited and approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to assist veterans with their disability compensation claims, the defendants decidedly are not. Despite this, VA Claims Insider (VACI) and the group’s owner and CFO, the case alleges, have helped prepare “tens of thousands” of vets’ disability claims while charging fees that “far exceed those that even fully accredited attorneys and agents can legally charge for doing so.”
Further, the VA disability claims lawsuit charges that VACI, owner Brian T. Reese and CFO Laurel Reese have repeatedly made false statements implying that the VA approves of their services and falsely touted the nature of the help they provide veterans. The plaintiffs contend that the defendants unfairly compete with them and other legitimately accredited attorneys and agents who follow the rules and legally assist disabled vets.
“Indeed, Defendants have improperly collected hundreds of millions in fees that should rightfully have been collected by accredited attorneys and agents,” the filing alleges. “This lawsuit seeks to put a stop to this unfair and illegal scheme, which not only harms the business interests of properly accredited attorneys and agents but also hurts our veterans.”
The VA offers veterans disability compensation in the form of monthly tax-free payments to cover a number of physical and mental conditions. The payments, which the case says can exceed $4,000 per month, are meant to help both vets and their dependents, and as of September 2022, nearly 5.6 million veterans nationwide receive VA disability compensation.
Navigating the VA claims process can be daunting, the lawsuit adds, and the agency put in place a central system designed to protect veterans from “those who would take advantage of that confusion.” In order for a group or organization to lawfully provide help to a veteran with their VA disability claim, they must be accredited with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the suit stresses.
As the lawsuit tells it, “bad actors like VACI flout the rules.” The complaint charges that not only are VACI’s employees not accredited with the VA, but the group’s business model and overall conduct hinge on “taking advantage of veterans in vulnerable circumstances, making false and misleading statements about its services, and unfairly and unlawfully competing with accredited attorneys and agents.”
The plaintiffs accuse VACI of “routinely [violating]” the laws and regulations put in place to “promote quality representation, foster fair competition among accredited attorneys and agents, and protect veterans’ interests.” In particular, the suit alleges VACI, in providing claims preparation services, assesses illegal fees, charges interest and late penalties on illegally prepared claims, fails to submit fee agreements to the VA, and bills vets for work “even when VACI never assisted with the claim,” among “numerous other illegal tactics.”
The case moreover alleges that a bevy of statements made by the defendants online, highlighting how they supposedly assist veterans, mislead reasonable vets into believing their employees and agents are accredited with the VA.
According to the lawsuit, the VA in April 2019 sent the defendants a cease-and-desist letter in which it ordered VACI to “make sure that [it] is not misleading the public into thinking that the organization as a whole provides VA claims assistance services.” After receiving the letter, the case says, VACI hired a law firm to perform an internal risk analysis, with the firm informing the group that it “cannot give VACI assurance that the business model and existing contracts will not be reviewed, investigated, and challenged by regulatory authorities (or prosecutors) empowered to do so, or that if challenged, VACI will prevail.”
Per the case, the VA also reached out to the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division to share that VACI’s practices “were clearly intended to ‘game the system.’” In light of a slew of complaints about VACI, the Texas AG, as part of its investigation into the defendants, ordered the group to provide documents about its practices.
However, VACI, “[i]gnoring the VA, its own counsel, and the Attorney General,” has continued to operate illegally, the lawsuit alleges.
The case looks to represent all persons who were VA-accredited claims agents and/or VA-accredited attorneys at any point from December 4, 2019 to December 4, 2023, and/or the corporate entities through which they provided services.
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