(Victor Skinner, The Center Square) – A U.S. Army veteran from Texas has filed a federal class action lawsuit against a North Carolina-based business she says has overcharged thousands of veterans.
Army veteran Jennifer Ford contends the VA claims consulting business Veterans Guardian, based in Pinehurst, has used deceptive practices and charged exorbitant fees to help thousands of veterans in North Carolina and beyond to increase their disability benefits in violation of state and federal laws.
Ford filed a class action lawsuit and demand for a jury trial on Sept. 1 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina with the help of attorney Jeff Osterwise, senior counsel with the Philadelphia-based law firm Berger Montague.
The lawsuit, which was referred to mediation on Tuesday, seeks “actual damages, statutory damages of not less than $500 but no more than $4,000 for each violation, declaratory and injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees and costs.” A summons was issued for Veterans Guardian on Friday.
The complaint reads in part, “This case is about illegal fees charged to disabled United States Military veterans by an unaccredited North Carolina-based company, Veterans Guardian. The fees are extracted from victims’ Disability Compensation benefits paid through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.”
And, “Despite its name, Veterans Guardian in fact preys on disabled veterans by unfairly and deceptively taking tens of millions of dollars of their disability benefits in violation of Federal law, the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trades Practices Act, and the North Carolina Debt Collection Act.”
Ford, who lives in Texas, was honorably discharged from the Army in 2009 and received a 60% disability rating and monthly payment from the VA before contacting Veterans Guardian in 2022 for help to increase her claim by including post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is a condition arising from shocking, dangerous or terrifying experiences including war, disasters, physical or sexual assault or abuse, fires, car crashes, etc.
Veterans Guardian drafted her VA claim and coached her for a private medical exam and VA Compensation and Pension Examination, successfully increasing her monthly benefit payment, according to Ford.
The fee Veterans Guardian charged for the services was $1,800, or five times the $360 monthly increase. A second claim in 2022 for high blood pressure was also approved by the VA with Veterans Guardian’s help, resulting in another $300 per month in benefits and a $1,500 fee, according to the lawsuit.
Federal law prohibits accredited agents or attorneys from charging fees based on increasing a veteran’s monthly disability compensation, allowing them to charge only a maximum of one-third of back pay or past due benefits, according to the lawsuit. The litigation asserts Veterans Guardian is not accredited as required by law to process claims.
The suit includes an email from Veterans Guardian that linked Ford to online VA claim forms that were fully prepared by Veterans Guardian, as well as another email suggesting the company has done the same for 25,000 other claims over a two-year timeframe.
Veterans Guardian, which has faced similar accusations from the American Legion and questions from federal lawmakers, responded to a request for comment from The Center Square with a link to a prepared statement on the company’s website.
“Veterans Guardian categorically denies the false accusations of the lawsuit recently filed against us by attorneys who benefit from a broken Department of Veteran Affairs and a clogged veterans benefits system,” the statement read in part. “Contrary to the baseless claims of wrongdoing, Veterans Guardian provides ethical and transparent assistance that veterans can choose to use to obtain benefits to which they are entitled, but often have difficulty accessing through other available means due to a complicated and bureaucratic process.”
At time of publication Friday, The Center Square’s messages to Osterwise had not been returned.