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Guilty: Houston Attorney Steals Millions from Disabled Veteran Clients

A Houston attorney pled guilty this week to stealing over 1.36 million from disabled veterans between 2003 and 2008. According to reporting by the Houston Chronicle, Joe B. Phillips, 73, was running a thriving business as an attorney focusing on helping disabled veterans with claims and legal issues. He was frequently appointed to oversee the probate of the estates of deceased veterans. He also routinely received VA benefits on his clients’ behalf. His wife and legal assistant, Dorothy, however, was a gambling addict. Joe and Dorothy admitted to stealing $2.5 million from 49 disabled veteran clients, illegally routing their benefits to fake bank accounts to which he and his wife opened. The two of them would go to casinos in Louisiana and use ATM cards to access the cash in these bank accounts.

For his part, according to the Houston Chronicle, Phillips blamed the VA for poor oversight.

How can you protect yourself from this kind of fraud? It’s not easy. Phillips was a thorough and careful attorney. He was only caught when the VA audited him directly and found evidence of false reporting.

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself, though:

  • Correspond directly with the VA. If you are capable, you should receive benefits directly, rather than go through an intermediary.
  • Do your own audits. Look at correspondence you receive directly from the VA and compare that to the history of your deposits. They should match, precisely. Do this regularly – monthly, if possible. If there is a discrepancy, it’s a lot easier to fix a one or two month problem than it is to fix a problem that goes on for years. And you’re out less money in the meantime.
  • Do a background check on your financial and legal professionals. For attorneys, you can contact your state Bar Association to see if their license is in good standing. For financial advisors, you can generally contact FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Association, and do a background check to uncover any history of disciplinary proceedings or complaints.
  • One or two complaints isn’t a big deal – bogus complaints are common in that industry. But if all the complaints sound a common theme, or if there are multiple disciplinary measures taken, then use caution when dealing with that particular individual.

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