Pinehurst-based firm hit with federal class action suit

Before we get started, please remember that getting sued is not indicative of guilt or liability.  Just like being charged does not mean you are guilty. We have courts, judges, and juries to help determine that.  But here we go with the details:

[…] A consulting firm that helps veterans increase their disability benefits has been accused of illegally reaping tens of millions of dollars worth of fees from its clients, a U.S. Army veteran said in a lawsuit filed in North Carolina federal court.

Jennifer Ford accused North Carolina-based Veterans Guardian VA Claim Consulting LLC of using a slew of deceptive practices to coerce veterans into paying the high costs of its disability claim preparation services — all in violation of North Carolina’s Unfair Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the North Carolina Debt Collection Act, as well as federal laws and regulations intended to protect veterans.

“Veterans Guardian’s unfair business practices have caused many unwary veterans to hire Veterans Guardian believing it to be a legitimate provider of lawful [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] claim services, when in fact the contracts are unlawful,” Ford said in a complaint filed Friday.

According to the complaint, Ford was honorably discharged from the Army in 2009 and approved for disability benefits. But in early 2022, she said she hired Veterans Guardian to help her file a claim for additional benefits to cover post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The firm prepared Ford’s VA disability compensation claim, according to the complaint, selecting and filling out the appropriate forms, and mailing in paper form a completed packet, including an envelope addressed to the VA, to Ford’s home for her to date and sign.

The VA ultimately increased Ford’s benefits by an extra $360 a month, and under a fee agreement, Ford paid Veterans Guardian $1,800 — five times the increase — for its services, according to the complaint. 

Ford later filed another claim through Veterans Guardian for high blood pressure and was approved for an extra $300 a month. Shortly after, she was invoiced again for $1,500, or five times the claim increase, Ford said.

But Ford said that Chapter 59 of the U.S. Code barred claims agents and attorneys from charging filing fees based on increasing veterans’ disability benefits and further prevented them from charging more than one-third of the back pay or past due benefits. Under that law, Veterans Guardian could have charged her only $116.55 for the first claim and $100 for the second, Ford said. 

She further accused the firm of operating without necessary accreditation, pointing out that federal law also bars people from acting as a claims agent until they are accredited by the VA.

Ford filed the suit on behalf of an alleged class of veterans who had purchased Veterans Guardian’s services. Citing a Veterans Guardian email stating that it processed more than 25,000 claims over a two-year period, Ford estimated her proposed class includes thousands of people. 

In a Tuesday statement to Law360, a Veterans Guardian spokesperson said the firm “categorically denies” Ford’s accusations.

“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,” the spokesperson said. […]

Here is the case docket with relevant filings.

Here is the full text of the legal complaint.