NEPTUNE, NJ – Governor Phil Murphy signed Senator Vin Gopal’s legislation today prohibiting people from charging fees for advising or assisting veterans in obtaining benefits.
“This bill makes it a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act for persons to receive compensation for advising or assisting on how to obtain benefits,” Gopal, D-Monmoth, said at the bill signing at VFW Post 1333 on Corlies Avenue yesterday. “I meet regularly with veterans throughout Monmouth County. Too often they tell me about being scammed or overcharged when they seek help accessing their rightful benefits to which they’re entitled. The victims of this financial abuse are often disabled veterans just trying to get by.”
The new law also prohibits people from charging fees or compensation for referring a veteran to another person for advice or assistance with any veterans benefits matters, except as is permitted under federal law. New Jersey’s new law defines “veterans benefits matter” as the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of any claim affecting veterans filing for benefits. It also bans charging fees for helping veterans expecting to file a claim for “any benefit, program, service, commodity, function, status, entitlement under the laws and regulations administered by the United States Department of Veterans Affair or the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.” The law also covers veterans’ dependents, survivors, and other individuals eligible for the benefits.
Veterans, servicemembers, and their families are specifically targeted by criminals because veterans have a steady income and benefits, frequent moves and deployments, and unique culture that criminals can exploit to gain unwarranted trust. A recent AARP survey found that one in 10 veterans say they were contacted by someone offering to assist them in enrolling in the new program by a caller who guaranteed a payoff, which is a telltale sign of a scam.
Under Gopal’s bill, S3292, in instances where fees or compensation are allowed for assisting veterans, the payment terms and services must be put into a written agreement, in advance, and signed by both parties.
A person who violates the new law would be charged with an unlawful practice charge under the Consumer Fraud Act, punishable by fines up to $10,000 for a first offense, up to $20,000 for any subsequent offense and be subject to punitive damages of up to three times to damages and costs to the injured party.
“We owe the men and women who served in the armed forces and sacrificed so much to protect us and keep our families safe a debt that we will never be able to fully repay,” said Gopal, a member and former chair of the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “But we can take steps like this law to ensure we have their backs when they seek help obtaining their rightful benefits.’
Senator Vin Gopal serves as Senate Majority Conference Leader and Chair of the Senate Education Committee. Elected in 2018, a lifelong resident of Monmouth County, Senator Gopal represents residents of Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Colts Neck, Deal, Eatontown, Freehold, Freehold Township, Interlaken, Loch Arbor, Long Branch, Neptune City, Neptune Township, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Tinton Falls, Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury Township, and West Long Branch in the State Senate.