CONYERS— While not common, veterans can fall victim to unscrupulous caretakers who take advantage of access to joint financial accounts.
The issue arose this week after an elderly military veteran reported to Conyers police that he believes his caretaker has taken money from his checking account.
According to the report filed by Conyers Police Department Officer Justin Lykins, the police department received a tip about the potential theft and Lykins met the alleged victim at the Conyers field office of the GDVS.
The 87-year-old veteran claimed he has maintained a joint checking account with his caretaker since October and his Veterans Affairs and Social Security checks are deposited into the account. The caretaker has access to the victim’s account to pay the veteran’s bills, the incident report states.
On Monday, however, when the veteran attempted to deposit a $30 check payable to him, he discovered that there was no money in his account and had no idea why the account would have been drained.
Veteran advocates say such financial abuse of veterans can happen, but fortunately it doesn’t seem to be a common problem.
“I have seen it multiple times, but it’s not a common occurrence,” said Tommy Clack, a Mansfield resident who served 18 years as the area’s veterans service officer for the Georgia Department of Veterans Service.
“Family members or caretakers run into financial problems, and having that money sitting there is very tempting,” Clack said.
Janice Mohr, manager of the Conyers field office of GDVS, said it is not unusual for a second person to be named as joint holder of a veteran’s checking account. Elderly or incompetent veterans need help with chores such as depositing money and getting bills paid, and the joint checking account is an easy solution.
Mohr believes financial abuse by caretakers or guardians is rare.
“I probably have never heard of anything like this, where a guardian did something like this,” Mohr said. “Those accounts are monitored. That person has to account for everything at the end of the year.”
She said that if wrongdoing is suspected, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs will launch an investigation, and the suspect will have to account for all funds withdrawn from the account. Mohr has notified the VA of the Conyers incident.
While it may be an easy solution, Clack said he thinks the joint account is not the best solution for an elderly or incompetent veteran who needs assistance in financial matters.
“The VA can grant power of attorney to a family member or caretaker,” Clack said. “And the VA will check into the background (of the caretaker or family member). We see fewer cases of this kind of thing when it’s done that way. That’s a better way to go than the joint checking account.”
Zeste Debro, a Conyers resident and Attachment Commander of the Sons of the American Legion, said, “We’ve had a couple of cases reported to us like that but not involving caretakers.”
Debro recalled an incident he knew about in which a family member emptied a veteran’s bank account.
“He barely had enough money for food,” Debro said. “We just need to take better care of our senior veterans.”
The Conyers American Legion post helped that victimized veteran by reporting the incident to the police and the VA.
Michael French, a Korean War veteran and VFW post commander in Covington, said, “We don’t hear about it too often. But I hate to see anybody be done that way.”