Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a new law aimed at protecting veterans who seek assistance with their VA benefit applications. Because the application process is complex, many seniors hire attorneys to assist with filing applications for Veterans Benefits and Medicaid. A cottage industry of non-lawyer companies and individuals has emerged as well. Unfortunately, some of the non-attorney organizations that offer these services have been found to be disreputable, and New Jersey has actively investigated widespread abuse and consumer fraud by application assistors.
For over a decade, the state has expressed concerns over Medicaid Application Assistors. New Jersey lawmakers proposed legislation prohibiting non-attorneys from charging a fee for assisting with filing a Medicaid application.
However, NJ S-3292, the Veteran legislation, takes a different, more comprehensive approach. It requires Veteran application assistors that seek compensation to put their terms in writing, and prohibits the companies from guaranteeing a specific result. Most significantly, it prohibits charging a fee for an initial application. Fees would be allowed, as they are for attorneys, only once a denial is received and a notice of disagreement is filed. The legislation also prohibits the payment of referral fees by application assistors. Companies will also be required to disclose in writing that they are not affiliated with any veteran agency or service organization, and must advise consumers that local veteran agencies provide application assistance at no charge.
This new law, along with the proposed Medicaid bill, are important reforms aimed at protecting vulnerable adults.