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ON YOUR SIDE: Veterans fight to get benefits restored after eBenefits account is compromised

Some veterans returning from the front lines are coming home to another kind of fight: a battle for their benefits.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Some veterans returning from the front lines are coming home to another kind of fight: a battle for their benefits.

"The VA says it will take up to six weeks to refund the June check missing because of this," said Joseph Ramsell.

Ramsell, 36, an Army Veteran called on the VA for help after his eBenefits account was compromised.

"They said that's the way it was and there's no way to get me any help and I should call one of the charities in my area," he said.

Ramsell said on May 18, his VA eBenefits account was compromised and his monthly check redirected to debit cards in California.

"The cards are parented by a bank out of San Diego," Ramsell said.

The VA notified of the issue on May 29 but told him it will take weeks before his $3,400 is restored.

"I am learning it has been happening to veterans all across the country at the rate of three to four a month," he said.

It happened to Leslie Eglinger, a Navy Veteran, earlier this year.

"I am just trying to find out when the money will be put into my account," she said. "If this is like what I think, it is a breach you're looking at nationwide."

Ramsell served in the Army at Ft. Stewart, Georgia. Since his discharge, he has been living in Spokane.

While it was the VA who informed him of the breach, getting it fixed has now become a test of patience and a battle of determination.

"The VA's policy right now is hurting veterans and stands the risk of making veterans who are victimized by this problem homeless," Ramsell said.

On Your Side contacted the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs, which is now trying to help Ramsell.

We were also given the following statement on the issue:

"eBenefits has not been hacked. However, we have on occasion learned of individual accounts that have been fraudulently accessed. Veterans are the targets of many of the same types of fraud as the rest of society, including mail, telephone and online fraud. VA takes fraud allegations and the security of Veterans’ information seriously. When a fraud case is reported or suspected, VA investigates the incident and determines what actions are needed to protect the Veteran’s benefits, report those responsible for the alleged fraud and quickly make the Veteran whole."

Q: What can a veteran who may be having a similar experience do to minimize the time it takes to correct a problem?

A: Veterans who suspect they have been the victim of fraud should contact VA as quickly as possible at 1-800-827-1000. A specialized VBA Incident Team has been created at the Salt Lake Regional Office as a quick reaction force. They have been established to complete all potential payment-related fraud incidents (to include eBenefits) for VA nationwide. The Incident Team’s actions include research, reissuance of payments, and final contact with the Veteran. In addition, VA has previously blocked known fraudulent accounts, implemented new fraud alert protocols for VA Regional Offices and National Call Centers, and added a Fraud Prevention Contractor to assist in identifying fraudulent activities and patterns before they occur.

Veterans who suspect they have been the victim of fraud should call VA at 1-800-827-1000. They can also contact VA’s Office of the Inspector General in any of the following ways:

  • E-Mail: vaoighotline@va.gov or call 1(800) 488-8244 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Eastern Time Monday to Friday, excluding Federal holidays. Note: Individuals calling from Puerto Rico may encounter difficulties when calling the Hotline 1-800 number. Connection problems may be alleviated by using a landline instead of a cell phone.
  • Mail: VA Inspector General Hotline, 810 Vermont Ave., NW, Washington D.C. 20420

Q: How are veterans alerted if there is reason to believe their accounts or funds are in jeopardy?

A: The VBA Incident Team in Salt Lake City would contact a Veteran if it determines there has been fraudulent activity on the Veteran’s account. Safeguarding personally identifiable information (PII) is a Veteran’s best defense against becoming the victim of eBenefits and other fraud. Veterans should never disclose their PII to an unknown third party and should regularly change their eBenefits and other account passwords.

Q: How long on average do these investigations take?

A: Salt Lake City VBA Incident team has a 30-day goal from receipt to resolution.

Q: How many fraud investigations typically happen each year?

A: There have been 2293 accounts compromised since August of 2015. To put things in perspective, there are currently 7,110,975 active eBenefit accounts. This represents a fraud rate of 0.03224%, which is well below the private industry standard.