PREVENTING CRIMES AGAINST VETERANS ACT OF 2016
(House of Representatives - April 12, 2016)

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[Congressional Record Volume 162, Number 55 (Tuesday, April 12, 2016)]
[Pages H1610-H1612]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




             PREVENTING CRIMES AGAINST VETERANS ACT OF 2016

  Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the 
bill (H.R. 4676) to amend title 18, United States Code, to provide an 
additional tool to prevent certain frauds against veterans, and for 
other purposes, as amended.
  The Clerk read the title of the bill.
  The text of the bill is as follows:

                               H.R. 4676

       Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of 
     the United States of America in Congress assembled,

     SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

       This Act may be cited as the ``Preventing Crimes Against 
     Veterans Act of 2016''.

     SEC. 2. ADDITIONAL TOOL TO PREVENT CERTAIN FRAUDS AGAINST 
                   VETERANS.

       (a) In General.--Chapter 47 of title 18, United States 
     Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

     ``Sec. 1041. Fraud regarding veterans' benefits

       ``(a) Whoever knowingly engages in any scheme or artifice 
     to defraud an individual of veterans' benefits, or in 
     connection with obtaining veteran's benefits for that 
     individual, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not 
     more than five years, or both.
       ``(b) In this section--
       ``(1) the term `veteran' has the meaning given that term in 
     section 101 of title 38; and
       ``(2) the term `veterans' benefits' means any benefit 
     provided by Federal law for a veteran or a dependent or 
     survivor of a veteran.''.
       (b) Clerical Amendment.--The table of sections at the 
     beginning of chapter 47 of title 18, United States Code, is 
     amended by adding at the end the following new item:

``1041. Fraud regarding veterans' benefits.''.

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from 
Virginia (Mr. Goodlatte) and the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Johnson) 
each will control 20 minutes.
  The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Virginia.


                             General Leave

  Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members 
may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their 
remarks and include extraneous materials on H.R. 4676, as amended, 
currently under consideration.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Virginia?
  There was no objection.
  Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may 
consume.
  H.R. 4676, the Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act of 2016, was 
introduced by Congressman Tom Rooney of Florida, a former member of the 
Judiciary Committee, and Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida, a current 
member of the Judiciary Committee.
  This legislation fixes a loophole in Federal law and provides Federal 
prosecutors with an additional tool to go after criminals who seek to 
defraud veterans.
  In recent years, financial predators have increasingly targeted 
veterans, particularly elderly veterans in low-income housing, in an 
effort to defraud the veterans out of their Veterans Affairs benefits.
  These criminals offer to help veterans with their cases, claim to get 
their benefits approved in record time, charge fees that are often in 
the thousands of dollars, and then provide them with little or no 
assistance.
  Under current law, many of these fraudsters would be vulnerable to 
prosecution under the mail or wire fraud statutes if they engage in 
this sort of fraudulent scheme by calling a veteran on the phone, 
sending them an email, mailing them a letter, or otherwise using the 
instrumentalities of interstate commerce to commit fraud.
  However, increasingly these criminals are taking advantage of a 
loophole in Federal law by conducting in-person seminars or meeting in 
person at a veteran's home or assisted living facility.

[[Page H1611]]

  In at least one recent example, a fraudster visited an assisted 
living facility in Florida and asked the staff to round up all the 
veterans for a seminar. This sort of conduct--swindling an elderly 
veteran out of his or her benefits--is truly reprehensible and worthy 
of Congress' attention.
  H.R. 4676, which has the support of the veterans service community, 
addresses this conduct. This vulnerable population has done its duty to 
protect us from harm.
  It is our duty to help protect them. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, 
some people wonder all their lives if they have made a difference. 
Veterans don't have that problem.
  I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation and 
protect our Nation's veterans.
  I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I 
may consume.
  I am pleased to support H.R. 4676, the Preventing Crimes Against 
Veterans Act of 2016, as amended. This legislation provides an 
important tool for Federal prosecutors to combat veterans' benefits 
fraud, a very despicable practice.
  Because we honor their service and the sacrifices that they have 
made, it is particularly important that we go above and beyond the call 
of duty to protect America's veterans from fraud and to ensure the 
integrity of the system of benefits we provide to them.
  Currently, there are about 21 million veterans of the United States 
military, men and women who selflessly served our Nation in various 
theaters of war, from the Second World War, Korea, and Vietnam to more 
recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, many of our 
veterans, as a result of their service, have physical and mental scars.
  There are well over 1 million American veterans with service-
connected disabilities. The suicide rate among veterans is 300 percent 
above the national average, and it is estimated that about 30 percent 
of all Vietnam veterans and 20 percent of veterans of the recent Middle 
East conflicts suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in a given 
year.
  In addition, veterans are more likely than nonveterans to become 
homeless. They comprise 17 percent of our homeless population. On any 
given night, an estimated 50,000 veterans are sleeping on America's 
streets.
  In recognition of the extreme sacrifice by our veterans and the 
hardships many of them continue to face after completion of their 
military service, it is our solemn duty and our obligation to provide 
to the best of our ability an appropriate measure of compensation for 
them.
  For instance, we provide disability payments to those with service-
connected disabilities. We provide pensions for veterans with limited 
incomes. We provide them with opportunities for education and training 
under the GI Bill. And we also provide various life insurance benefits. 
This is the least that we can do, and it is still not enough.
  Unfortunately, there continues to be issues with the medical care we 
provide our veterans and problems with some benefits never being 
processed and paid because of the loss of claims by the Veterans 
Benefits Administration.
  H.R. 4676 would make it a crime to knowingly engage in any scheme to 
defraud a veteran of his or her veteran's benefits or to knowingly 
engage in fraud in connection with obtaining veteran's benefits. Anyone 
convicted of such crime could and should be fined, imprisoned, or 
subjected to both penalties.
  I note that the amended version of the bill we are considering today 
reflects an amendment offered in the Judiciary Committee markup by 
Ranking Member John Conyers. The amendment, which was approved by voice 
vote, extends the bill's protections to fraud involving the benefits 
owed to the survivors and dependents due to the service of a veteran.

  Those who defraud veterans or their surviving spouses or dependents 
endanger our system of veterans' benefits not only by harming the 
victims, but also by diminishing the resources required to pay these 
claims and fund the programs that are needed to help those who have 
served their country.
  Accordingly, I support H.R. 4676. I commend the bill's sponsors, 
Representative Tom Rooney and Representative Ted Deutch, both of 
Florida, for their work on this important issue.
  I thank the chairman for hastening the consideration of this very 
important piece of legislation by the full committee.
  I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to 
the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Rooney), the chief sponsor of this 
legislation.
  Mr. ROONEY of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I serve nearly 75,000 veterans in 
Congress, making Florida's 17th District one of the highest 
concentrations of veterans in the whole Nation.
  From helping veterans solve problems and process claims with the VA 
to working to fund veterans' benefits programs at levels deserving of 
their sacrifice, my duties to these 75,000 veterans is something that I 
take very seriously. But my constituents are quick to let me know that 
I still have a lot more work to do to fix the system.
  One particularly disturbing problem was brought to my attention by a 
number of veterans service organizations in my district.
  Last year I started to hear stories about individuals advertising 
themselves to veterans in my district, claiming that, for a hefty fee, 
which is illegal, they could expedite veterans' claims with the 
Department of Veterans Affairs. The problem with that is they can't 
expedite these claims.
  One local Veteran Services Division explained to me at length how 
these criminals are systematically targeting senior veterans in low-
income housing communities almost as a rule because those vets are most 
likely to fall victim to their schemes.
  Disturbingly, these guys will go into assisted living facilities and 
``round up all the veterans'' and coerce veterans to apply for 
veterans' benefits they don't qualify for and to sign contracts 
agreeing to pay them for services that they can never provide.
  We all know that the claims process at the VA is far too slow and 
takes far too long. My office works with veterans on a daily basis, as 
do the other Members here, to try to assist them with their claims and 
expedite the process when possible.
  But when I hear that people are singling out veterans, targeting some 
of them based on their low income, and then earning a significant 
profit off them, that just makes me sick.
  As the law stands now, even though it is illegal for anyone who is 
not an approved agent with the VA to charge a fee for helping a veteran 
with a claim or an appeal, there is no criminal or financial penalty 
associated with breaking this law.
  Without a Federal criminal penalty, there is little deterring these 
despicable people from defrauding a veteran for financial gain. The 
reality is this: It is happening in all of our districts and people are 
getting away with it every day.
  I refuse to let this continue unabated in my own backyard in this 
country, especially not to our veterans for whom I have so much 
respect, as do we all.
  So along with my neighbor and friend, Democratic Congressman Ted 
Deutch of south Florida, we introduced a bill to penalize people and 
companies making a living off of stealing from our veterans.
  Our bill would give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools to 
penalize predators that are blatantly engaging in a scheme to defraud 
veterans, or their families, of his or her benefits by imposing a fine, 
imprisonment of up to 5 years, or both.
  These criminals have to pay the price for their appalling actions. It 
is our duty in Congress to ensure that our Nation's heroes are 
protected under every circumstance and aspect of the law. I am proud 
that this bipartisan bill is on the floor today.
  I urge my colleagues to join me, Congressman Deutch, and the chairman 
and the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee in support of this 
bill.
  Each and every one of us owes our Nation's veterans the utmost 
respect. Today we have the chance to bring justice to those veterans 
who have fallen victim to the immoral schemes committed by some of the 
lowest forms of criminals in our country.

[[Page H1612]]

  

  Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, it warms my heart today to be a 
part of this body and to be a part of the movement of such important 
legislation as this, which is to protect people who are very vulnerable 
to abuse. Without our action, it will just simply continue.
  I want to once again applaud the efforts of Representative Tom Rooney 
and Representative Ted Deutch for bringing this legislation to us.
  I look forward to its passage. I would recommend to all of my 
colleagues that they join us and support this legislation.
  I yield back the balance of my time.
  Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
  Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, as the Ranking Member of the Judiciary 
Committee and Subcommittee on Crime Terrorism, Homeland Security, and 
Investigations, which reported this legislation, I rise in strong 
support of H.R. 4676 ``Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act of 
2016'', a bill that provides an important additional tool for federal 
prosecutors to combat veterans' benefits fraud.
  I support this legislation, because of the honorable sacrifices our 
veterans have made for us, it is particularly important that we protect 
them from fraud and ensure the integrity of the system of benefits we 
provide for them.
  H.R. 4676 amends the federal criminal code to declare that any person 
who knowingly engages in any scheme or artifice to defraud a veteran of 
veterans' benefits, or in connection with obtaining veteran's benefits 
for that veteran, shall be fined, imprisoned not more than five years, 
or both.
  Currently, there are approximately 21 million veterans of the United 
States military living all across our country.
  It is estimated that about 30 percent of all Vietnam veterans have 
had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and up to 20 percent of 
veterans serving in more recent conflicts in the Middle East are 
estimated to suffer from PTSD in a given year.
  Given the extreme sacrifice by our veterans and the hardships many of 
them continue to face after their military service, it is our duty to 
provide, to the best of our ability, an appropriate measure of 
compensation for them-particularly for those in need.
  For instance, we provide disability payments to those with service-
connected disabilities, pensions for veterans with limited incomes, 
education and training under the GI Bill, and also various life 
insurance benefits.
  Over 24,000 veterans reside in my 18th Congressional District and one 
of my top priorities is to fight for their benefits and to fight for 
the rights of our most patriotic Americans.
  Amending title 18, United States Code of H.R. 4676, provides an 
additional tool to prevent certain frauds against veterans.
  H.R. 4676 will ensure that prosecutors may bring criminal charges 
against those who knowingly defraud a veteran of their benefits or 
engage in fraud in connection with obtaining veterans' benefits.
  476,515 veterans are living with PTSD, and need their benefits to 
provide the top care for their disorder; it is criminal that some are 
left untreated.
  H.R. 4676 will bring justice to our veterans and shine a light on 
those who are abusing the benefits given to veterans for defending our 
country.
  Those who defraud veterans and the system of veterans' benefits harm 
the victims and diminish resources required to pay the claims and fund 
the programs that are needed to help those who have served their 
country.
  I urge all Members to join me in voting to pass H.R. 4676.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The question is on the motion offered by the 
gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Goodlatte) that the House suspend the 
rules and pass the bill, H.R. 4676, as amended.
  The question was taken.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. In the opinion of the Chair, two-thirds 
being in the affirmative, the ayes have it.
  Mr. ROONEY of Florida. Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and 
nays.
  The yeas and nays were ordered.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to clause 8 of rule XX, further 
proceedings on this motion will be postponed.

                          ____________________