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VA Warns of Site Collecting Personal Data

The top left corner of the Veterans Affairs Services webpage says the organization is not affiliated with the government.

However, the large seal that dominates the page implies it is.

The organization's site has raised a red flag for the Veterans Affairs Office of the General Counsel.

Veterans Affairs Services is a nonprofit organization based in California, according to its website. The organization acts as an advocate for military in promoting health, welfare and education, explaining benefits to military members and assisting them in communicating with the VA.

That is nothing new, said Jerron Barnett, spokesman for the VA Gulf Coast.

"That tends to happen a lot. But when they start crossing over into actually helping file benefits and things of that nature, that's when the General Counsel of the VA really perks its ears up," Barnett said.

Barnett received a notice for veterans from the VA's General Counsel that included a request to publicize the warning to the media. The notice said VAS was collecting personal information on veterans and using "their close resemblance to the VA's name and seal" to gain trust from veterans and access to the information.

The notice also asked that anyone with examples of VAS employees preparing claims for VA benefits to contact VA General Counsel.

Organizations such as VAS are allowed to create informational websites if the services do not include assistance with the preparation, presentation and prosecution of claims for VA benefits.

VAS added the disclaimer to the top of the website in 2006 when the VA first contacted the organization. The VA raised concerns that the organization's name and seal gave the impression that it was a part of or endorsed by the government.

"VAS is not recognized by VA for purposes of assisting veterans with claims for VA benefits," Jessica Jacobsen, a spokeswoman for the VA's regional office in Dallas, wrote in an e-mailed statement.

"Veterans seeking the assistance of a VA-recognized service organization for purposes of submitting a claim for VA benefits may search for VA-recognized organizations on the General Counsel's accreditation search page at http:// www4.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp," Jacobsen said.

Barnett said he does not know what prompted the recent warning from the VA's General Counsel. He said he has received no complaints or comments from local veterans about VAS.

"I had never heard that name or that organization's name until I received that correspondence from the General Counsel," Barnett said.

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