Catherine Cortez Masto


Defrauding Veterans of their benefits would be its own federal crime under a bipartisan bill recently reintroduced in the Senate.

Under the bill from Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., fraud schemes that target Veterans benefits would be punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine or both.

"Anytime the federal government provides essential benefits to our constituents, there's going to be predators out there to take it away," Cortez Masto said in a phone interview with on Tuesday. "So we have to make sure that we are imposing the appropriate enforcement to protect those individuals so that their benefits are not taken."

The bill, which Cortez Masto and Rubio formally reintroduced Friday, has been introduced in previous Congresses and has even passed the House several times. Most recently, in 2021, the House overwhelmingly approved the bill in a 416-5 vote. But it has never been taken up by the Senate, meaning the legislative process has to start from scratch again this year.

According to data released by the FTC in February 2022, reports of fraud against Veterans, service members and spouses jumped 69% in 2021 compared to the previous year. Within that group, Veterans and military retirees reported being targeted the most, with 87,343 fraud reports. The total 110,827 fraud cases reported by military consumers resulted in an estimated $266 million lost.

Concerns have also been raised that scammers could target Veterans more in the wake of the passage of the PACT Act, the sweeping legislation that expanded benefits for millions of Veterans exposed to toxins.

While fraud is already a crime regardless of whether the target is a Veteran, Cortez Masto, who previously served as Nevada's attorney general, said creating a new offense specifically addressing Veterans benefits fraud will give prosecutors more tools to go after criminals. For example, she said, "pension poachers" may escape mail or wire fraud charges if they present themselves as an investment specialist trying to help a Veteran.

"If a defendant cloaks themselves as some sort of professional that was just trying to help for a fee, even though their intention all along was to defraud these individuals out of their money and not necessarily help them and still get to a fee, sometimes it's difficult for prosecutors to use the existing offense," she said.

While the bill, called the Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act, has stalled in the Senate in previous years, Cortez Masto vowed to continue pushing until it gets across the finish line.

"This is something we can all get behind, so I think we're both going to do everything we can to get it going and get it passed on the Senate side," she said, referring to her and Rubio. "It is important for our Veterans, not only to protect them and their benefits, but [to] hold people accountable that want to defraud them and scam them."


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