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VA and USPS Collaborate to Protect Veterans Against Fraud and Scams

Through an agreement, the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and Veterans Administration Privacy Service (Office of Privacy and Records Management, OPRM) continue to provide information to veterans and their dependents about avoiding scams and protecting personal information. Operation Protect Veterans is a national anti-fraud campaign that alerts veterans and their families who have a long history of being targeted for financial abuses, often leveraging a veteran’s sense of duty and loyalty to fall prey to scams. The USPS also supports the VA’s More Than a Number campaign, which seeks to educate veterans and their beneficiaries on protecting themselves from identity theft.

Scams that target veterans run the gamut from subtle to outright audacious. Some of the better know scams may include:

  • VA phishing scams: Fraudsters, posing as VA employees in electronic communication, contact veterans via “phishing,” including email spoofing, text messaging, and instant messaging. The goal is to obtain important information like Social Security numbers and personal financial information. The data is then used to access bank accounts or open fake credit card accounts.
  • Benefits buyout offers: This setup involves a scammer taking advantage of a veteran’s immediate financial needs by offering a quick, upfront purchase of future disability or pension payments at a fraction of its true value.
  • Fraudulent records promotions: Scammers will charge fees to veterans’ access to government forms or military records. This information is available for free through the VA for forms and the National Archives for military records.
  • Bogus employment offers: Veterans often fall prey to fake job descriptions posted online. Applying for these fake jobs, veterans provide personal information on applications, and scammers will usually also charge an employment “fee.”
  • Fake charitable request: Scammers, in this instance, will often use plausible branding techniques, making fraudulent claims about charitable donation collection that will not benefit wounded service members or veterans.

The most basic advice to all veterans is, do not provide information to unknown entities. Research and verify all offers and claims from outside sources. If you do not understand an offer, ask a trusted loved one for help. If the scammer persists or makes financial threats remember the surest tactic is to hang up the phone, press delete, or don’t open a link you were not soliciting, or that is unknown to you. The links provided can be of great assistance to connect veterans and their loved ones to programs and educational videos to help them identify a scam before personal loss ensues. If you have a loved one that is not web-savvy, help them to understand what to look for to prevent mail fraud, bank fraud, or some other type of scheme.

The VA Privacy Service and USPIS, with their continued partnership, share a common goal: to educate veterans and their families about known scams and provide simple precautions they can take to protect their identity and money. Both the US Postal Inspection Service and the VA want to help veterans and their dependents avoid becoming victims.

If you have questions or would like a private meeting to discuss your planning needs, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

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The Month of March Is Developmental Disability Awareness Month

March of 1987 started Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, encouraging all Americans to provide people with developmental disabilities with the opportunities and encouragement they need to reach their potential. Since then, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) holds a campaign each March to communicate the importance of inclusion and story sharing of individuals living with developmental disabilities (DD). The campaign emphasizes that people with DD can live fully in all areas of community life and help create more strong and diverse communities.

A developmental disability begins anytime during the developmental period, often in utero, and usually lasting throughout a person’s lifetime. The disabilities can be brought about by a complex set of factors, including genetics, parental behavior and health (i.e., smoking and drinking) during pregnancy, complications during birth, any infections present in the mother during pregnancy, and early life exposure to environmental toxins like lead. Some developmental disabilities directly correlate to pregnancy behaviors, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. However, most DD causes are not easy to decipher.

Developmental milestones are key to diagnosing when a DD may be present. Skills like a first smile, waving “bye-bye” and taking the first step, and other general developments like speaking, behaving, learning, playing, and body movement can indicate a need for closer monitoring if the child is not on an average timeline or behavioral spectrum. This observation is known as developmental monitoring and is a partnership between the parents and health care professionals that identify areas of concern.

Developmental disabilities appear before 22 years of age and are life-long, affecting one or both physical and cognitive functioning. If both intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) are present at birth, and without proper intervention and support, it can negatively affect an individual’s emotional, intellectual, and physical development trajectory. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) funds the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED) in a multi-year, multi-diverse site study to identify risk factors for children experiencing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Developmental disabilities occur among all socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic groups. Recent estimates for the US show about one in 54 (about 18.5 percent) of children ages 3 to 17 have one or more DDs such as:

  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Learning or intellectual disabilities
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision impairment
  • Other developmental delays 

Another CDC program, Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) tracks the number and characteristics of children with ASD, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disability in diverse US communities. The CDC does not study treatment or education programs for individuals with developmental disabilities nor provide direct services to people with DD or their families. However, the CDC does give a list of resources for people affected by developmental disabilities here.

In 2004 the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandating accountability, excellence, and equity in education for children with disabilities guarantees early intervention, special education, and services to transition high schoolers with DDs into adulthood. This IDEA opens a world of possibilities through the resolve of self-advocates and their supporters. Individuals with developmental disabilities need education, health care, and community programs for the same reasons anyone else does — to stay vital, well, active, and an integral part of the community.

Having a disability does not preclude a person from being healthy within their normal range, which is to be as well as possible and stay that way to lead full and active lives. To achieve this includes the need for tools and information to make healthy choices and prevent illness since children with DD commonly suffer additional health conditions such as gastrointestinal symptoms, eczema and skin allergies, asthma, and migraine headaches, to name a few.

The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), partnering with the Association for University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) and the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), create a social media campaign for March. This campaign seeks to raise awareness about and the inclusion of those with DDs in all areas of community life and draw attention to the barriers those living with disabilities still face. The goal is to highlight how all people can come together to help those with disabilities form and maintain strong, diverse communities.

If you have a loved one with a disability, it’s important to have a proper estate plan that ensures your loved one is taken care of. We help families with these important planning decisions and would be honored to discuss your particular situation and needs. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

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Family Connection Is Vital to the Elderly

Family connections are extremely important to the elderly population. Family creates a consistent social network and connection that directly impacts the senior’s overall quality of life. Prioritizing family relationships provides continuity as a senior experiences change in their social network. Friends may change, become ill and unavailable, or even pass away, but family is multi-generational and, as such, has an enduring presence for an aging family member. The stability of family relations, even with the ups and downs of disputes, is a familiar source of social and emotional grounding, as well as practical help. A study by the United Health Group reports more than half of older Americans will cite faith or spirituality, and a loving family as the top reasons they have a positive outlook. That positive outlook brings tremendous benefits to a senior’s health and well-being.

Sadly, not all seniors have the benefit of a nuclear family or close extended family. Yet, these connections were deemed more important than financial resources, according to the majority of participants in the United Health Group survey. Aging seniors who integrate into their family system are more prone to live healthier and longer lives than those seniors who remain isolated from family.  Even in the case of those seniors living with later stages of dementia, family contact can reduce disease symptoms and may stave off faster mental decline. How is it that family brings about higher rates of longevity? 

Family contact helps to maintain a senior’s immune system. Family social connections create optimism, which in turn may lead to stronger cell-mediated immunity, the immune cells that are responsive to bacterial or viral invasions. The senior immune system can also become more adaptive and robust due to low-level exposure to a variety of pathogens when interacting with their family in person. Social seniors, even those in non-family settings, often have stronger immune systems because of human contact.

Other techniques to improve an aging immune system include nutritional supplements or vitamins along with a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. Also, regular exercise, maintaining vaccinations, reducing stress, restful sleep, proper hydration, washing hands, and a positive outlook can all boost a senior’s immune system. When a senior has an actively involved family, many of these health systems are put into play, especially the positive outlook. Having a family who cares about and cares for their elder members reduces feelings of depression, which feeds the cycle of optimism, improving overall health.    

A higher level of cognitive functioning is linked to a family connection, as well. Brain health acquires benefits from being happy and socially engaged in activities that challenge memory and thinking skills. Human interaction goes beyond the more repetitive brain teaser challenges and puzzles because the social dynamic is fluid and unpredictable. A senior must engage all of their senses when responding while being in a family group. Holiday meals, birthday celebrations, family reunions, and many other typical family activities are good brainwork for an aging family member.  According to a study published in the Public Library of Science, elderly and even middle-aged adults who maintain active social circles appear to be at a lower risk of developing dementia. A family system is the ultimate pre-made social connection. “This finding could feed into strategies to reduce everyone’s risk of developing dementia, adding yet another reason to promote connected communities and find ways to reduce isolation and loneliness,” said the study’s lead author, Andrew Sommerlad, Ph.D., of University College London.

Family roles shift throughout time. Parents who used to care for their children now experience an evolving family structure and the inevitability of their mortal decline. When the roles of parenting reverse, it brings challenges for all involved. Financial support is often needed when a parent is in declining health, and the ability of family members to contribute such help to the senior offers great relief and helps to reduce stress. Even if a family system is unable to provide financial support, emotional support does wonders for the aging process of a family member. Positive conversations and interactions can increase their level of contentment, reduce worry, and bring family inclusiveness and a sense of belonging to the senior.

Not all seniors have a family who can play an active role in their life. However, with extra effort, relationships can be forged that will be mutually beneficial, especially in the digital age of social media. While friendships oftentimes never replace an actual biological family, the adage that “friends are the family you give yourself” rings true and can create lasting and meaningful connections.

All of these connections are really about feeling loved. The benefits of being grounded in love, and what that brings to a person are profound. What if you never felt alone? What if you always felt loved? What if you could live your life knowing that someone was always in your corner, still there for you? The answer is the same to all of these questions – you would have a better chance at living your best life physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Strengthen family connections and friendship relations. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to be a part of someone’s life. Text, email, video chat, and social media platforms provide interaction when it is not possible to physically be with a family member.  However, do not overlook the more traditional methods of contact, which include personal visits, a phone call, and a handwritten letter or a card sent via snail mail. While these “old school” methods may not seem relevant to younger generations, they are particularly meaningful to a senior.

Every connection can make a difference. A close family can learn, share, and grow together. Outcomes from these shared experiences benefit all members, but in particular, the older family members.  Younger generations are also gaining an invaluable lesson. The digital world is reconfiguring human experiences electronically and is leaving many people wanting human connection.

If you have questions about a loved one or if you would like to talk about your particular situation, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.